Thursday, August 18, 2016

Private Dungeons: A Setback?

Justice Department Says It Will End Use Of Private Prisons:

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.

The Justice Department’s inspector general last week released a critical report concluding that privately operated facilities incurred more safety and security incidents than those run by the federal Bureau of Prisons. The private facilities, for example, had higher rates of assaults — both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff — and had eight times as many contraband cellphones confiscated each year on average, according to the report.
Of course, this isn't new information. While the inspector general's report is a damning indictment of the use of privatization, the findings merely echo what the GAO found on privatization more than 25 years ago, and continued to update regularly and with equal derision for the past quarter century: "private prisons are ineffective, not cost-saving, more violent" and so forth. More drugs, more tobacco, more cellphones, more assault, rape, violence...you name it, it's worse in a private facility, and has been so, since the move towards privatization began back in the late 80's.

Sidebar: want to read a harrowing account of what it's like to work in a private dungeon? Read this now.

And if I can also note: almost all of my mentors in penology, especially people like Michael Welch, Christian Parenti, Jeffrey Reiman and others, have been trumpeting these GAO reports and leading the charge against privatization for years, but usually falling on deaf ears. It's great that we now have a justice department (on its back nine) willing to listen and implement. It's not so great that this justice department will be out of existence in 5 months and who knows what the next administration may do.

Also, the move really isn't as sweeping as it sounds. While it addresses the federal inmates who have been convicted and sentenced in the federal system, it does not address the vast network of private detention facilities used to hold illegal immigrant and non-citizen detainees throughout the country.

The feds utilize detention facilities (viz. concentration camps) to hold detainees when they are swept up in raids, but before they can be deported, and the vast majority of these facilities are subcontracted to private companies. On any given day, they are holding more than 30,000 detainees, and in a calendar year will process roughly 400,000 persons. This is big business and, from my read of the DOJ order, is not covered or addressed (why would it? non-citizen detainees don't count anyway).

The role of the congress should also be noted in this. Private dungeons, er companies, deploy a vast army of lobbyists to push for inclusion in criminal justice policy. The congress could easily order the justice department to renew or expand private prison company contracts, via the budgetary process. So while the deputy AG's words are noteworthy and laudatory, they are also limited and fixed in duration.

And finally, let's remember too: the private dungeons make most of their money running state facilities (110,000 of the 130,000 private inmates are state inmates), which would be completely unaffected by today's order.

Nevertheless, I'll try not to be too skeptical and join the ranks of others who are celebrating the release of this report. For me personally, it's a head-nodding moment 15+ years in the making.

1 comment:

MRMacrum said...

My father was the head budget officer for PacAf (Pacific Air Force) back in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He saw privatization creeping into the military back then. It was one of the reasons he decided to retire and get out before he went bonkers. I can remember him ranting about the real costs of privatization, as much of it, especially back then, was "off budget" (off the books).

There may be rampant inefficiency in the government, but it is usually unintentional. Privatization by it's very nature builds inefficiency into the equation so the bill can be jacked up hard. Just look at the cost of the Iraq War for the perfect example.

This report is indeed good news, it only more shoveling against the tide. At least someone picked up a shovel. About time.