A Good Beginning

On August 18, 2016, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) would no longer contract with private prisons to house federal inmates.  This welcome news followed presidential campaign statements, first from Bernie Sanders and then from Hillary Rodham Clinton, that these candidates opposed prison privatization.

The DOJ Office of Inspector General report that preceded this announcement described a number of problems in private prisons that led to an unfavorable comparison with public facilities.  That study and the DOJ announcement are linked here: https://www.justice.gov/opa/blog/phasing-out-our-use-private-prisons.

Following the announcement, people asked us whether this development solved the prison privatization problem, making Abolish Private Prisons’ efforts unnecessary.  The answer to that question is a resounding, “No.”

  1. First, the DOJ decision is a political one that can change with any new administration, next year or in years to come. Indeed, U.S. News and World Report is reporting already that the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency is seeking to reopen two private prisons closed by the DOJ. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-10-25/ice-seeks-to-reopen-private-prisons-shuttered-by-justice-department
  2. Second, the DOJ announcement only affects one of four federal agencies that contract with private prisons.  It does not apply to the United States Department of Homeland Security, the United States Marshals Service or the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  3. Third, the decision to discontinue use of private prisons only calls for the FBOP contracts to run out until expired, which will be years later in many instances.
  4. Fourth, the DOJ’s decision does not affect the 30-plus states, and the many counties and municipalities around the country that contract with for-profit prisons.  Indeed, on the very same day the DOJ announced its decision, state authorities in Ohio said they would not follow DOJ’s lead and would continue to use private prisons.  Most inmates who are incarcerated in private prisons are placed there by the states and local governments.
  5. Fifth and most fundamentally, the DOJ’s decision leaves in place numerous federal and state laws that authorize or even require prison privatization.  These laws and resulting contracts violate the Constitution of the United States.  Just as it required the United States Supreme Court decree in Brown vs. Board of Education to end public school segregation that often was required by law, so we need a Supreme Court decision to end prison privatization throughout the Land.