The Department of Justice, which includes the Bureau of Prisons, has decided that they will cease to use private, for-profit prisons to house federal criminals and offenders from Washington D.C.
The decision came after internal reviews of privatized prison systems, which have found that they do not save money—the original goal of privatization—and that conditions within the prisons were generally worse than those in public prisons.
The privatized prison industry has come under a lot of criticism since it first started in the 1980s, especially for what critics see as an artificial ballooning of incarceration pushed by the companies that manage the prisons.
David Fathi, the director of the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, called the DOJ’s decision “important and groundbreaking,” and he called on state prison agencies “to stop handing control of prisons to for-profit companies” as well.
Morals or ethics aside, the DOJ only oversees 13 privatized prisons, which is a small percentage of the total number of prisons in the United States. There are numerous state prisons that are, and will for the time remain, privately run. That may change in the future, especially if the movement to end the practice gains steam as a result of the DOJ’s decision. Cost saving was the logic behind privatizing prisons in the first place, so the fact that they aren’t saving money will likely be a motivator.
The DOJ is drawing down the number of prisoners in for-profit prisons, and will be ending contracts, reducing the privatized population by about 50 percent by next year. The idea is to phase the process out gradually but quickly, instead of simply cutting and running.
The decision has already had some impact on the stocks in companies that run prisons. Though the Bureau of Prisons spent $639 million on privatized prisons in 2014, the reduction of that business, especially as states will have to make their own decisions on whether or not to keep supporting it, shouldn’t interfere with the rest of the economy.