What Does Reducing the Use of Private Prisons Mean for Inmates?
With the recent news that the government is beginning to phase out the use of private prisons for inmates, many are speculating on what this means for the industry and for inmates.
Once the announcement from the Department of Justice began circulating in the news, stocks of two of the biggest private prison companies fell, sending signals that things are changing.
Now that we know this change will occur, what does it mean for the thousands of federal inmates being held in private prisons as of August 2016? We can’t predict how new prison conditions will compare to private prison conditions, or change as a result of this shift. But we can look at why the government reached its conclusion and reach some logical conclusions.
Overall, there seem to be two reasons why the feds made this call: the audits of the private prison system practices revealed their facilities and treatment weren’t meeting expectations. A Justice Department report mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article on this topic states that privately owned prisons have more safety incidents per prisoner than federally operated prisons. The article also includes discrepancies in quality of staff as a difference that impacts quality of environment. The private prison industry tends to employ workers with less training and qualifications.
The Justice Department went further in its overall criticism of how private prisons run their facilities, stating:
“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 rehabilitative services that the Bureau provides, such as educational programs and job training, have proved difficult to replicate and outsource, and these services are essential to reducing recidivism and improving public safety.”
From this information we can only imagine the treatment and potential for rehabilitation will increase for the US prison population, which could have a positive impact on society as well. With more prisoners receiving the options to rehabilitate, their chances of re-entering society without returning to prison should increase.
Some believe that if the federal government and states could work together to remove the profit from the prison industry while also focusing on treatment for criminals and the mentally ill, we could achieve the primary goals of our justice system. This new policy is only a small piece of the pie, but some people think it could be the tip of the iceberg; especially as states look to trim budgets and reduce crime.
Some politicians are taking a moral stance that views for-profit prisons in a negative light, arguing that it aids mass incarceration. Studies have found that private prisons also pay their workers less, provide fewer correctional services, and have lower staff to prisoner ratios. Cutting these corners is easier for private businesses that don’t have the same kind of oversight and data tracking that government prisons keep. If we see more prisoners move into federal hands, the public and relevant organizations will have data to review for improvements in the system and accountability for those who run it. On the other hand, this policy also gives private prisons incentive to improve their services.
As much as this shift seems like good news, there are still challenges for those who want to completely put private prisons out of business. For instance, the new policy will not impact immigration detention facilities. According to The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to changing the criminal justice system, “As of December, 62 percent of the 34,000 beds for people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are in privately-run facilities.” Some people believe that the empty beds in the private prisons will be converted for use with the illegal immigrant population waiting to be sent back to their country.
The Washington Post also points out “while the directive is significant, privately run federal prisons house only a fraction of the overall population of inmates.” It’s true. Most of them are in state prisons, many of which, are privately run.
While it may take a lot of political pressure to make real change, this policy may be a good test case to see if the criminal justice system will continue in this direction. In the meantime, we can assume the livelihood of the prisoners affected will get better, and so will their chances of receiving treatment and effective care for their criminal behavior and mental illness.
Now, if we can just build enough momentum to continue taking steps in the right direction, imagine how that might benefit all of society, and change the field of criminal justice for the better.
Note: This is editorial content. CriminalJusticePrograms.com does not represent any political party, viewpoint or stance contained in this content. All opinions represented are those of the author.