The Justice Department is planning to end the use of private prisons in the United States, the Washington Post reports. The government has concluded that prisons run by private corporations are “both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services” than prisons run by the feds, the paper says.
Private prisons only house about 12 percent of the total prison population in the U.S., or roughly 22,000 federal inmates. They’re mainly owned by two companies, the Corrections Corporation of America, based in Tennessee, and the GEO Group, based in Florida.
But as the Post notes, while they house far fewer prisoners than public prisons, they have higher rates of assaults, both the officer-on-inmate kind as well as inmate-on-inmate, and higher rates of contraband. (Strangely, however, they have slightly lower rates of sexual misconduct and positive drug tests than governmentally-run prisons.)
All that is according to a dry but scathing report recently put out by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, which looked at how the federal Bureau of Prisons is doing at monitoring private prisons. Among other things, the report found that several private prisons were improperly putting people in the SHU (solitary confinement), not because they’d committed any infractions but because the facilities were overcrowded:
Our site visits also revealed that two of the three contract prisons we visited were improperly housing new inmates in Special Housing Units (SHU), which are normally used for disciplinary or administrative segregation, until beds became available in general population housing. These new inmates had not engaged in any of the behaviors cited in American Correctional Association standards and BOP policies that would justify being placed in such administrative or disciplinary segregation.
When the OIG discovered this practice during the course of our fieldwork, we brought it to the attention of the BOP Director, who immediately directed that these inmates be removed from the SHUs and returned to the general population. The BOP Director also mandated that the contracts for all contract prisons be modified to prohibit SHU placement for inmates unless there is a policy-based reason to house them there.
That is, bluntly, a potential human rights violation.
The other recent embarrassment for the private prisons industry was Shane Bauer’s massive investigation piece in Mother Jones, where he went undercover as a corrections officer at a prison owned by CCA. The violence, ineptitude, corruption, drugs and general chaos Bauer found may have had something to do with the Justice Department’s new interest in the private prison industry.