The Department of Justice decided to end federal usage of private prisons, according to the Washington Post.
In a memo, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote, “The fact of the matter is that private prisons don’t compare favorably to Bureau of Prisons facilities in terms of safety or security or services, and now with the decline in the federal prison population, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to do something about that. They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”
The move is being hailed as momentous, as private facilities have “higher rates of assaults–both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff–and eight times as many contraband cellphones confiscated each year on average,” according a Federal Bureau review.
While many progressives are championing the DOJ decision, it raises questions as to how it challenges mass incarceration and the abusive politics of prisons in general.
Ending federal usage of private prisons won’t reduce the prison population. “Private prisons hold about 8 percent of the prison population and a barely measurable number (5 percent) of those in jails. Overall, about 5 percent of the people locked up are doing time in private prisons,” pointed out Ruth Wilson Gilmore in an article about race and incarceration.
The announcement has also not curbed prison profiteering. “It is too soon to determine exactly how the new directive will play out, particularly given that it does not apply to existing contracts and it is not yet clear what it will mean to ‘substantially reduce’ contracts,” writer Sarah Lazare points out.
The decision also does not address how merely shuffling prisoners from private to public run facilities will end the brutality of prisons in general. It also does not account for the fact that private prisons came out of mass incarceration.
“More importantly, what good would it do these prisoners, anyway? They will still be locked up, and that’s the real public problem, not the manager overseeing their confinement,” Lazare says.