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The federal government is saying no to private prisons

Federal inmates serving time in privately owned prisons will be a thing of the past within a few years.

The U.S. Justice Department said Thursday it is phasing out its use of private prisons. In a memo to department officials, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told them to let government contracts with private prisons expire.

Yates says they’ve provided no big cost savings and they don’t have the same level of safety and security as facilities run by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

In a public announcement of the decision, Yates noted that the U.S. prison population has declined since 2013, when the number of federal inmates in private prisons peaked.

Private prisons under fire

Thursday’s announcement follows this month’s report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General that found privately operated prisons are more prone to violent incidents and rule infractions.

A spokesman for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country’s biggest operator of private prisons, tells the BBC that report was flawed.

Nonetheless, CCA’s stock price nosedived on Thursday’s news. It recovered slightly in late trading but ended the day down 35 percent.

“Orange is the new Green”

In the public eye, private prisons have gotten a black eye recently. The hit Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” skewered them in its most recent season. When the women’s prison where the show is set became privately operated, the profit motive led to overcrowding and understaffing.

Piper Kerman, whose book about her time in prison led to the show, wrote in an essay this summer that private prisons cut corners on staffing and safety measures in order to maximize profits.

Also this summer, a reporter for Mother Jones magazine who spent four months working for a CCA-operated prison in Louisiana wrote an expose describing widespread violence by both guards and inmates.

Will this affect state prisons?

Most inmates serving time in the U.S. are in state prisons, not federal ones.

But David Fathi, who directs the American Civil Liberties Union’s prison project, tells the BBC he thinks the Justice Department’s decision to stop using private prisons may have a trickle down effect on state and local facilities.

There is one privately owned prison in Minnesota but it’s been empty since 2010, when Gov. Tim Pawlenty decided

the state should stop sending inmates there.

With existing state prisons now overflowing, the Minnesota House voted this year to resume renting prison beds at Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton. But the move was rejected by the Senate and died in a conference committee.

The West Central Tribune says Rep. Tim Miller of Prinsburg, which is near Appleton, vowed  last month to keep pushing for the reopening of the 1,600-bed prison owned by CCA.

 

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