The Justice Department wants to get out of the private prison business.
Its announcement follows last week’s release of am Inspector General’s report showing that for-profit prisons are failures by just about any metric.
… privately operated facilities incurred more safety and security incidents than those run by the federal Bureau of Prisons. The private facilities, for example, had higher rates of assaults — both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff — and had eight times as many contraband cellphones confiscated each year on average, according to the report.
All that, in spite of the fact that the inmates housed at for-profit prisons were “mostly low security” types.
Cherry on the sundae: the prisons “do not save substantially on costs,” according to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
This ought to be another nail in the coffin of the privatization movement, which promises more efficiency and lower costs, but in fact deliver poor service, healthy profits for contractors, and employment security for their lobbyists and lawyers.
Before we get to the implications for Vermont, here’s your Moment of Schadenfreude: share prices in the two biggest private-prison companies collapsed on Wall Street, closing down by more than one-third.
Among those crowing at the news was Bernie Sanders, who noted that this was “exactly what I campaigned on as a candidate for president.”
Okay, Bernie. Care to comment on Vermont’s continued use of for-profit prisons?
The Inspector General’s report itself should have been enough of a wake-up call. It raises serious questions about how the state oversees its private prison contracts, since responsible officials continually insist that everything’s hunky-dory.
The Justice Department’s move could potentially make it harder for states to swear off private prisons, at least in the shorter term. Those federal inmates have to go somewhere, and the feds have made deals with state and local governments to lease their “excess” space. Vermont is doing so right now, in a move that added a few bucks to our depleted coffers but also extended our dependence on for-profit prisons.
The real impact of the Justice Department directive will play out over the next several years, as current contracts expire. And it could be revised or thrown out by the next administration. But still, an ACLU official called it “historic and groundbreaking.”
Time for Vermont to make a little history of its own.