The Private Prison Industry Is Still Alive And Well, And That Needs To Change

by Becky Nash

Yesterday, the Department of Justice announced its plans to stop outsourcing federal prisons to private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America after their current contracts expire. This announcement came on the heels of a damning report by the Department of Justice that confirmed what had already been suspected about the inhumane conditions of private prisons in the U.S. According to a Mother Jones article:

“Compared to federal prisons of similar sizes, locations, and security levels, the private facilities had a 28 percent higher rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults, and more than twice as many inmate-on-staff assaults per capita between 2011 and 2014. Prison officials also found nearly twice as many weapons and eight times as many cellphones in private prisons as compared to BOP prisons, per capita.”

The Mother Jones article also highlighted a finding that two of the prisons dealt with overcrowding by automatically assigning new inmates to “special housing units” including solitary confinement. Other concerns were raised about the lack of basic medical care for inmates as well as understaffed facilities.

This investigation may have been prompted in part by an incredibly in-depth investigative piece by Mother Jones published in June, entitled My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard. The article was several times longer than a typical feature and came along with six videos and a radio documentary. It was read by over a million people. In the wake of this piece, Mother Jones (a nonprofit news outlet in a world of for-profit news outlets), released multiple pieces reflecting on the risks, the costs, and the importance of investigative journalism today in relation to the decision made by the Department of Justice.

While this announcement by the Department of Justice is great news, the downside is that it is surprisingly only one small step toward ending the use of private prisons in the U.S. The decision will affect 13 private federal prisons, but it will not apply to private state prisons, nor will it apply to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Marshals Service detainees. 

In fact, the Obama administration has a billion-dollar contract with Corrections Corporation of America to detain asylum seekers running from extreme violence and poverty in Central America. This means that a huge number of asylum seekers will continue to be detained in private prisons, even though for many of them, their only crime was fleeing for their lives. This is a violation of human rights. Hopefully, however, the move by the Department of Justice will spark a trend in shifting away from allowing corporations to profit off of the detention of human beings.

Photo from Flickr

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