Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a decision to overturn a memo to end the use of private prisons, the Huffington Post reports.
About ten years ago, when the prison population was exploding, the Federal Bureau of Prisons sought out private companies to build and operate prisons. In 2013, the prison population reached its highest ever at 220,000 inmates. But, by 2016, the population began to decline for the first time in over thirty years accounting for only 195,000 inmates. This had to do with changes in how inmates are sentenced. As a result, the need for private prisons was reconsidered.
Then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote in a statement, “Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities. They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and…they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”
Yates recommended in the memorandum that the government phase out the use of private prisons. The BOP currently has contracts with three companies—CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation. Between the three companies, they house 21,000 inmates. The Yates memo states essentially, the government would finish out their contracts, and then reduce and eventually eliminate the need for these prisons. Yates’ memo followed a detailed report from the Justice Department on just exactly how poorly run these prisons are. Infractions included understaffing, poor medical care, and increased security risks among the inmates. All of that was in August. Before the election.
Now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is intent on undoing all of that. On Thursday, he issued a memorandum stating that Yates had, “changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.”
Sessions ordered that the BOP should return to using private prisons in order to restore the flexibility to manage fluctuating inmate population needs.
Just how much flexibility are we talking about?
GEO Group reported that it had the capacity to take in about 5,000 more inmates, and CoreCivic said it had nine empty prisons that combined can take in about 8,700.
CoreCivic CEO Damon Hinniger reassured his investors earlier this month, that the word ‘empty,’ was not a deterrent. “All of our idle facilities are modern and well maintained, and can be made available to potential state and federal partners without much, if any capital investment or the lead-time required for new construction,” he said.
So, why is the Attorney General insisting on keeping empty prisons, and empty beds available? GEO Senior Vice-President had a quick answer when he told analysts that their free space is, “immediately available and meet ICE’s national detention standards.”
Indeed, DHS is preparing to detain undocumented immigrants, but they have not shown interest in using the Justice Department’s facilities. NPR reports an unnamed ICE official wrote in a statement, “ICE detention is solely for the purpose of either awaiting the resolution of an individual’s immigration case or to carry out a removal order. ICE does not detain for punitive reasons.”
The statement continues that ICE reviews all detention facilities they use, and they must comply with their standard. In the past, the Department of Homeland Security was reported to agree with the assertions that the private prisons were found lacking in contrast to the federally-funded ones. But, if the government decides to prosecute illegal immigrants for entering the country, instead of just deporting them, this would certainly give purpose to all of this unused prison space.
The prison company stocks have risen since Trump’s election. “Our financial performance in the fourth quarter of 2016 was well above our initial forecast due, in large part, to heightened utilization by ICE across the portfolio,” Hanniger said. “When coupled with the above average rate crossings along the Southwest border, these executive orders appear likely to significantly increase the need for safe, humane and appropriate detention bed capacity that we have available in our existing real-estate portfolio.”
Sessions has a history with the industry, however. In 1996, he was the Attorney General of Alabama, and approved them in the state. Later, as a Senator, he worked with a private detention center in Alabama to get a federal contract. In October 2016, two of his staffers went to work as lobbyists for Geo Group. Their firm was specifically hired to handle government contracts.
In 2010, Sessions said in a Senate hearing, “I do think there is a role for private prisons in the American system.”
Senator Bernie Sanders believes the move was even more politically motivated than that. He said it was a “reward [to the private prison companies] who invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.”
Sanders writes in a statement,””At a time when we already have more people behind bars than any other country, Trump just opened the floodgates for private prisons to make huge profits by building more prisons and keeping even more Americans in jail. We must end private prisons in America.”