International Financial Law Prof Blog

Editor: William Byrnes
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Saturday, August 20, 2016

DOJ Will Eliminating / Close All Private Prisons Over Next Five Years

Between 1980 and 2013, the federal prison population increased by almost 800 percent, often at a far faster rate than the Federal Bureau of Prisons could accommodate. In an effort Justice logoto manage the rising prison population, about a decade ago, the Bureau began contracting with privately operated correctional institutions to confine some federal inmates. By 2013, as both the federal prison population and the proportion offederal prisoners in private facilities reached their peak, the Bureau was housing approximately 15 percent of its population, or nearly 30,000 inmates, in privately operated prisons. 

Since then, for the first time in decades, the federal prison population has begun to decline, from nearly 220,000 inmates in 2013 to fewer than 195,000 inmates today. In part, this is due to several significant efforts to recalibrate federal sentencing policy, including the retroactive application ofrevised drug sentencing guidelines, new charging policies for lowlevel, non-violent drug offenders, and the Administration's ongoing clemency initiative. Now, three years since the Department ofJustice announced its Smart on Crime initiative, our efforts to address the pressures facing the Bureau are seeing real and positive results.

Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities. They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department' s Office oflnspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security. The rehabilitative services that the Bureau provides, such as educational programs and job training, have proved difficult to replicate and outsource-and these services are essential to reducing recidivism and improving public safety.

For all these reasons, lam eager to enlist your help in beginning the process of reducing--and ultimately ending-our use of privately operated prisons. As you know, all of the Bureau's existing contracts with private prison companies are term-limited and subject to renewal or termination. I am directing that, as each contract reaches the end of its term, the Bureau should either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope in a manner consistent with law and the overall decline of the Bureau's inmate population.

Download DOJ Prison Memo

Results in Brief

We found that in a majority of the categories we examined, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions. We analyzed data from the 14 contract prisons that were operational during the period of our review and from a select group of 14 BOP institutions with comparable inmate populations to evaluate how the contract prisons performed relative to the selected BOP institutions.

Our analysis included data from FYs 2011 through 2014 in eight key categories: (1) contraband, (2) reports of incidents, (3) lockdowns, (4) inmate discipline, (5) telephone monitoring, (6) selected grievances, (7) urinalysis drug testing, and (8) sexual misconduct. With the exception of fewer incidents of positive drug tests and sexual misconduct, the contract prisons had more incidents per capita than the BOP institutions in all of the other categories of data we examined.

For example, the contract prisons confiscated eight times as many contraband cell phones annually on average as the BOP institutions. Contract prisons also had higher rates of assaults, both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff. We note that we were unable to evaluate all of the factors that contributed to the underlying data, including the effect of inmate demographics and facility locations, as the BOP noted in response to a working draft of this report. However, consistent with our recommendation, we believe that the BOP needs to examine the reasons behind our findings more thoroughly and identify corrective actions, if necessary.   Download Report on Prisons

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