Critics of the private prison system and its many flaws cheered earlier this year when the United States Department of Justice announced it would begin to phase out the use of private prisons. While the decision did not mean ending the usage of private prisons altogether, many viewed it as a step in the right direction.
However, now that contracts have recently come up for review and renegotiation, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) decided, contrary to the prior decision, to renew them. This despite an August memo from Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, in which she stated that the Department of Justice, which oversees the BOP, would either cancel or otherwise “substantially” decrease the contracts when it was time for renewal.
One of the nation’s two largest prison operators, CoreCivic (CCA), announced Nov. 15 that the BOP had renewed its contract to run the McRae Correctional Facility in Georgia for two additional years starting Dec. 1. According to CorrectionalNews.com, Damon T. Hininger, CoreCivic’s president and CEO, released a statement saying that the firm appreciates the BOP’s continued business relationship: “I am proud of the high-quality service provided by hundreds of CoreCivic’s corrections professionals at [McRae Correctional Facility], and we look forward to continuing to provide the BOP with flexible, cost-effective capacity solutions to address their needs as they evolve.”
Originally, the BOP said that the new contract would reduce the number of beds by 24 percent, which would have saved $6 million in costs. In reality, according to the press release last week, there was only an 8 percent deduction. Quartz reported that the reason for the discrepancy was that the DOJ provided them with the maximum capacity of the facility as a basis for the calculation. Conversely, CoreCivic used the minimum number of beds that it could potentially get paid for, which is the fixed amount of money it is guaranteed in the contract.
This has disappointed many activists and activist groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which reported that the McRae prison facility did not provide proper medical care to some inmates who needed it, and also abused the use of solitary confinement as punishment. The group asked the BOP to shut the prison down in 2011.
“We were hoping for the facility to shut down,” Azadeh Shahshahani told Quartz. Shahshahani is a legal and advocacy director of Project South, an anti-racism group based in Atlanta.
She acknowledged a pattern: The BOP extended its contract with GEO Group, the other of the two leading prison companies in the United States in September for the D. Ray James Correctional Facility, another Georgia prison. Just like with the McRae facility, the company shows the reductions are, again, quite small.
“This track record doesn’t show at least any short-term determination to abide by the mandate established in [the DOJ] memo,” Shahshahani reportedly said.
The facts of the decision, the comments on the decision by CCA’s CEO, as well as the election of Donald Trump, mean that the United States is unlikely to see the use of private prisons decrease anytime soon.
Trump has blatantly stated that he supports the continued privatization of prisons. Also, Trump’s plans for Black people — which include overpricing in urban areas and Black neighborhoods — as well as his plans for illegal immigration, would be a boon for those looking to pad their prisons. Even more important, stocks for CoreCivic and the GEO Group both soared after Trump was elected.
Additionally, Trump’s nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions, who has been a harsh and outspoken critic of any and all criminal justice reform efforts, to serve as his attorney general could also add fuel to the prison fire. Just last month, the Geo Group hired two former aides of Sessions as lobbyists who would lobby in favor of outsourcing to the private prison industry.