This piece was originally published at GenFKD.
States need to recognize the severe issues in private facilities and follow suit with the federal decision.
After years of reported abuse and mistreatment without apparent cost savings, the Justice Department is phasing out the use of federal private prisons.
This is a morally and financially sound decision that should be adopted by state governments using the same practice.
After the tough-on-crime era spurred rising prison populations around the United States, federal prisons began to contract with private facilities to handle the overflow.
Between 1999 and 2000, the number of inmates in private prisons grew by 90 percent. Now, between federal and state, there are around 1.5 million prisoners held in private facilities countrywide.
One of the motives behind contracting to private prisons was to save money, as studiespredicted that the facilities would save between five and 15 percent compared to public-run facilities.
However, as early as 2001, the Justice Department was finding that the supposed cost savings had failed to materialize. And, the same report reveals that even if private prisons were actually saving the money as promised, the amount would not have a significant impact on the budget.
All that said, private prisons are not guaranteed to save money. Recent cases have popped up in which local governments were forced to pay hefty fines after agreeing to faulty deals with private prisons that granted them tax-exempt status.
Private prisons are under fire regularly for understaffing facilities and failing to provide adequate care to inmates.
As a result of these practices, stories about mistreatment at private prisons have been piling up over the past decade, detailing everything from sexual abuse to stabbings to escapes. The most recent article was an under-cover investigation by a Mother Jones reporter that revealed horrific stories of abuse and neglect.
And a 2016 Justice Department review confirmed that private prisons have more safety and security incidents per capita than government-run facilities. Their study found more incidents involving contraband, lockdowns, inmate discipline, telephone monitoring, selected grievances, urinalysis drug testing and sexual misconduct.
The Obama Administration announced last week that it would begin phasing out the use of private prisons on the federal level. Over the next five years, as contracts with private prisons expire, they will be either terminated or significantly scaled back.
The Office of the Attorney General has explained the decision by referring to the decline in prison population starting in 2013. After populations peaked that year, the Justice Department launched a smart-on-crime initiative that it now says is responsible for the decline.
“This decline in the prison population means that we can better allocate our resources to ensure that inmates are in the safest facilities and receiving the best rehabilitative services,” reads a memo from Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
The memo also explains that prisons will be better managed under governmental control. By May 2017, the department projects housing 14,200 inmates in private prisons, down from 30,000 in 2013.
But the number of federal prisoners in private facilities only accounts for less than one percent of the total population in private prisons – the rest are held in facilities contracted with state governments.
Ending the reliance on private prisons on the federal level is a huge step in the right direction. Private prisons have been shown to mistreat and improperly care for inmates, and their cost savings are highly questionable to say the least.
However, there are still over a million prisoners being held in private facilities contracted by state governments facing the same issues. States need to recognize the severe issues in private facilities and follow suit with the federal decision.
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