Critics have long denounced private prisons in the US as unsafe, inefficient and at times, inhumane. Those critics, who include inmates and activists, seemed to find a powerful ally earlier this year when the Department of Justice announced it would phase out its use of private prisons for federal prisoners. This wouldn’t mean the end of privately-run incarceration facilities (they’re also used by immigration authorities and states), but it was seen as a step forward. Except, that when the first contracts came up for re-negotiation this fall, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) quietly decided to renew them anyway. That decision, along with the election of Donald Trump, means that the US is unlikely to see the use of private prison operators diminish any time soon.
Last week, CoreCivic (CCA), one of the country’s two largest prison operators, announced that the BOP had renewed its contract for two years to run the McRae Correctional Facility in Georgia. According to the company, the new agreement was barely changed, with only an 8% reduction in inmate beds. This despite an August memo from the deputy attorney general Sally Yates that stated that the Department of Justice, which oversees BOP, would either nix the contracts, or “substantially” reduce them when they came up for renewal.
Curiously, the BOP said the new contract, reduced the number of beds by 24%, and saved $6 million in costs, and followed DOJ instructions. The reason for the discrepancy? BOP initially provided Quartz only the maximum capacity of the facility as a basis for the calculation. CoreCivic presented the minimum number of beds it would get paid for—the fixed amount it is guaranteed by the contract.
Either way the contract renewal is spun, activists are disappointed. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the McRae facility neglected the medical care of some inmates, and unduly punished inmates with solitary confinement. In 2011, the group asked the BOP to shut the prison down.
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