US Govt. to phase out use of private prisons over cost, prisoner health & safety concerns

On 18 Aug. 2016, the US Department of Justice announced it would begin to phase out the use of for-profit prisons for federal inmates, returning to full housing of prisoners in federally owned and operated facilities.  As justification, it cited drops in the overcrowding that had originally prompted the government to turn to private prisons; a recent government report critical of safety and security problems in private prisons; insufficient educational and job training programmes necessary to reduce recidivism; and lack of cost savings.  It also followed a major investigative series published by The Nation earlier in the year that "uncovered more than two dozen questionable deaths and widespread medical negligence" in privately run federal prisons.  The companies operating federal prisons are Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Geo Group, and Management & Training Corp.

Advocates for human rights in prisons applauded the move and called for states to follow suit.  The majority of US prisoners are held in prisons run by individual states.  Several states indicated that they would continue to use private prisons including Ohio and Tennessee.  Prison reform advocates urged states to also stop using private prisons, including in Arizona, CaliforniaFloridaNew Mexico, and Texas.  California will continue to use private prisons to address overcrowding, but its officials have stated a "strong preference" to end private prison contracts.  Some states had previously started to reduce use of private prisons including ColoradoIdaho, DC, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas.

The decision also does not affect the use of private detention centres by US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for undocumented immigrants, although DHS later announced that it would also review the use of private prison firms. These detention centres outnumber private prisons used by the federal government to house those convicted of crimes.

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23 December 2017

Private prison investors set for giant windfall from Trump tax bill

Author: Jamiles Lartey, The Guardian (UK)

Individual investors in US private prisons are poised to collect their most lucrative earnings ever thanks to changes in the tax code signed by Donald Trump...Under the new GOP law, investments in so-called “real estate investment trusts” (reits) will see a 25% reduction in tax…Corecivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and the Geo Group, which together own more than 80% of private prison beds in the US, both restructured as reits in 2013...

...With dividends of more than $430m paid out by the two major private prison companies in 2017, in theory, prison investors could see an additional $50m in dividend earnings next year...The actual figure will be lower than that, however, as some proportion of those shares are owned by institutional investors which are taxed differently from individuals...

...A CoreCivic representative told the Guardian that “there are far more pressing matters for Congress to pursue” than the reit tax classifications...The Geo Group added they are “treated exactly the same as other real estate investment trusts without any special tax treatments or loopholes”. The point that activists make, though, is that treating prisons as real estate is a loophole...

...Divestment campaigns have successfully pulled more than $4bn out of banks (principally Wells Fargo) and other organizations that invest in the industry. “Since the tax benefit goes directly to the investors, I think the divestment work actually becomes more important… [to] stop the flow of capital,” [Jamie] Trinkle [of the racial and economic justice coalition Enlace] said...

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24 August 2016

Why the U.S. is right to move away from private prisons

Author: Clint Smith, Ph.D. candidate, Harvard Univ., in New Yorker (USA)

The absurdity of privatizing prisons, institutions whose purpose is to rehabilitate, so that their economic motivations no longer match up with their social missions, has for years been at the forefront of conversations regarding criminal-justice reform... [Last] week, the Justice Department announced its plans to phase out their use in the federal system... The distorted incentives of the for-profit prison industry have even managed to find bright sides to undisputed social problems like unemployment... The U.S. prison system, over all, disproportionately affects black and brown people, but people of color are overrepresented to a greater degree in private prisons... 

The moral abhorrence of private prisons has been brought to our attention by courageous acts of investigative journalismilluminating scholarship, and the work of activists who have decried the social stratification brought about by our prison systems. Closing thirteen private prisons is a small step, but it renews the conversation on how to move forward. [refers to Corrections Corporations of America, Corizon Health]

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19 August 2016

Federal decision to phase out private prisons has limited impact, activists say

Author: Jamiles Lartey, Guardian (UK)

The Department of Justice announced Thursday that it would begin “phasing out” the use of private prisons for federal prisoners citing superior safety and rehabilitation outcomes at state-run facilities... The move has been widely hailed by advocates as one that could signal positive change for about 22,000 federal inmates...but many have also paused to note that the Justice Department decision only affects about a quarter of inmates and detainees held in US private facilities.

“While the Justice Department’s announcement is a step in the right direction, much more action is needed to scrub private prisons from our criminal justice system,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, an online racial justice organization.

The decision, for example, does not apply to people held in Department of Homeland Security detention centers for immigration violations, which tally at about 34,000 on any given day, and about 400,000 over the course of a year. About 60% of those detainees are held in private facilities... “Refugees, children, parents and everyday people seeking a better life are routinely locked up, abused and even killed by corporate-run immigrant detention facilities and despite the evidence, the Department of Homeland Security refuses to shut them down,” said Greisa Martinez, advocacy director for United We Dream Action, an immigrant rights activist organization. [refers to Corrections Corporation of America]

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18 August 2016

U.S. to Phase Out Use of Private Prisons for Federal Inmates

Author: Charlie Savage, New York Times (USA)

The Obama administration said on Thursday that it would begin to phase out the use of private for-profit prisons to house federal inmates. The Bureau of Prisons had resorted to such prisons to ease overcrowding...but the number of federal inmates has been dropping... In announcing the policy shift, the Justice Department cited that decline, as well as a critical recent report by the department’s independent inspector general about safety and security problems in private prisons...  Sally Q. Yates, the deputy attorney general...said [private prisons] “do not save substantially on costs,” and they provide fewer rehabilitative services, like educational programs and job training, that are “essential to reducing recidivism and improving public safety.” ...

Advocates of prisoner rights applauded the policy shift...and called on state prison agencies to follow suit... The inspector general report...identified three corporations as running the private prisons used by the federal government: Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation. [includes comments by Management and Training Corporation, Corrections Corporation of America]

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