The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”
“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 of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates wrote.
According to the Inspector General’s report, private prisons housed roughly 22,660 federal inmates as of December 2015. That represents about 12 percent of the Bureau of Prisons total inmate population, according to the report.
In her memo, Yates wrote that the Bureau of Prisons began contracting with privately run institutions about a decade ago in the wake of exploding prison populations, and by 2013, as the federal prison population reached its peak, nearly 30,000 inmates were housed in privately operated facilities. But in 2013, Yates wrote, the prison population began to decline because of efforts to adjust sentencing guidelines, sometimes retroactively, and to change the way low-level drug offenders are charged. She said the drop in federal inmates gave officials the opportunity to re-evaluate the use of private prisons.
Yates wrote that private prisons “served an important role during a difficult time period,” but they had proven less effective than facilities run by the government. The contract prisons are operated by three private corporations, according to the Inspector General’s report: Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group and Management and Training Corporation. The bureau of prisons spent $639 million on private prisons in fiscal year 2014, according to the report.