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ABA’s Private Prisons Prophecy Comes to Pass

by Ed Lyon

Prison populations exploded in every state across the country during the 1980s and ‘90s. It was during that massive expansion that the modern private prison industry was born as a “way to ease the burden on taxpayers by reducing public spending on government-run facilities,” as touted by the for-profit incarcerators. In reality it has become another way to transfer public wealth in the form of tax dollars into the coffers of private corporations and their shareholders.

The American Bar Association (ABA) foresaw what was ahead, and in a 1990 resolution numbered 115B, sternly advised “governments to proceed with caution before entering into contracts with private prison companies.”

In a January 16, 2021 Executive Order, President Joe Biden issued an order barring the Justice Department from renewing contracts with private prisons, while excluding immigration detention contracts. The Justice Department’s Inspector General had already found in 2016 that private prisons “do not maintain the same levels of safety and security for people in the federal criminal justice system or correctional staff.”

In March 2021, the Sentencing Project released a report on private prisons. The report stated 115,428 prisoners were held in private prisons as of 2019 and the private prison census numbers had increased 32 percent since 2000. However, the number of criminal justice prisoners held in private prisons has largely remained stagnant for the past decade with little sign of increasing.

On Tuesday, August 10, 2021, Stephen A. Saltzburg of the ABA’s Criminal Justice Section, backed by the National Bar Association and Section on Civil Rights and Social Justice introduced a new resolution, number 507, to the ABA House of Delegates. Resolution 507 flatly opposes the use of private jails, prisons and juvenile detention centers to imprison citizens before or after trial.

In its entirety, the resolution states:

“RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association opposes the use of private prisons, jails, and juvenile detention centers to house individuals (a) prior to trial on criminal or delinquency charges and (b) following a conviction or finding of delinquency and urges federal, state, local, territorial and tribal officials to take the necessary steps to terminate the use of these facilities as criminal detention centers as soon as possible; and

“FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges Congress and state, local, territorial and tribal legislatures to end the practice of for-profit incarceration by repealing 18 U.S.C. § 4003 and similar state, local, territorial and tribal laws; and

“FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association replaces ABA Treatment of Prisoners Standards, Standard 10.5.”

The resolution passed in a 273-33 vote.

When the ABA Journal sought a statement on Resolution 507 from GEO Group, the nation’s second largest private incarcerators, GEO Group referred them to Day 1 Alliance, a trade group representing GEO, CoreCivic and Management and Training Corp., the big three in private prison corporations.

Day 1 Alliance spokesperson Alexandra Wilkes characterized Resolution 507 as “politically motivated” and “ill informed” adding, “If the sponsors of this proposed resolution had any idea what they were talking about they’d know private sector contractors have been part of the solution to some of the toughest challenges facing America’s criminal justice system.” What that solution was, she did not say. 


Source: American Bar Association Journal

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