PLN managing editor comments on DOJ decision to stop using private prisons
DOJ to end CCA contracts, shares tumble
The U.S. Justice Department is phasing out the use of private prisons to boost safety and security, a move that sent shares of Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America tumbling.
The Bureau of Prisons began contracting with private companies about 10 years ago to handle an increase in the number of federal prisoners, according to the department. Prison populations have dropped in recent years and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates asked the bureau Thursday to not renew or to reduce contracts with private prison operators that reach the end of their term.
"This is the first step in the process of reducing—and ultimately ending—our use of privately operated prisons," Yates wrote in a statement. "While an unexpected need may arise in the future, the goal of the Justice Department is to ensure consistency in safety, security and rehabilitation services by operating its own prison facilities."
Corrections Corp. of America is one of three main prison operators for the federal government, along with GEO Group and Management and Training Corp., according to an August report from the Office of the Inspector General. The report found that privately run prisons had more safety and security incidents per capita than those run by the bureau of prisons. CCA prisons had the highest rates of fights and inmate-on-inmate assaults.
CCA shares dropped by 35 percent to $17.57 on Thursday, and the GEO Group shares fell 40 percent.
CCA has contracts with three Bureau of Prisons facilities, which make up seven percent of CCA's business, according to CCA spokesman Jonathan Burns said. He said that the inspector general report is flawed and that it did not take into account population demographics.
"We value our partners, and we will continue to work with them, both through the types of management solutions we’ve provided for more than three decades, as well as new, innovative opportunities we’ve been exploring in recent years in a proactive effort to meet their evolving needs," Burns said in an emailed statement. "(The Inspector General’s) findings simply don’t match up to the numerous independent studies that show our facilities to be equal or better with regard to safety and quality, or the excellent feedback we get from our partners at all levels of government."
Alex Friedmann, a former inmate who is now the Associate Director of the Human Rights Defense Center and managing editor of Prison Legal News, praised the department's action.
“The recent decision by the Department of Justice to end its use of privately-operated prisons is long overdue, and is the result of for-profit prison firms, including CCA, reaping the poor harvest they have sown for many years," Friedmann said in an emailed statement.
"Federal officials have finally realized what those who oppose private prisons have long argued: The need to general profit results in systemic problems in the prison context, and results in numerous deficiencies. Private prisons are part of the problem, not the solution, to mass incarceration in the U.S. and to reforming our nation's criminal justice system.”
CCA has 85 facilities across the country, according to the company’s website. In addition to its headquarters, CCA has eight facilities in Tennessee: that includes jails in Nashville and Chattanooga and four state prisons. There is one federal prison in Tennessee, located in Memphis, but it is not operated by a private company.
Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Tony Parker said the state has a good relationship with CCA, and there are no plans to end any contracts with the company or counties that contract with CCA.
"Currently the Department of Correction is satisfied that CCA managed facilities are being operated in accordance with state policies and correctional standards. TDOC has many policies and procedures in place for monitoring and inspection of all of our prisons, including the privately managed facilities. The CCA managed facilities are held to the same high-standards as all of the TDOC managed facilities," Parker said in a statement, emailed by a spokeswoman.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Bill Haslam referred comment to the department.
The newest CCA is the Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility located in Trousdale County, about 50 miles northeast of Nashville. The company has a five-year, $276 million contract to operate the facility. Although state law essentially allows for only one private prison, the Tennessee Department of Correction is using Trousdale County as something of a pass-through: Trousdale pays the money to CCA after receiving the money from the state.
The facility stopped accepting new inmates earlier this year amid "serious issues" raised by a state corrections official, ranging from inadequate staffing and solitary confinement problems to allegations of excessive force. The prison has since begun receiving new inmates; it’s slated to become the biggest in the state.