Prison reform advocates were encouraged by the D.O.J. decision.

The news was big, the numbers behind it less so: The federal government announced it will end its use of private prisons, having deemed them less safe and less effective than government-run facilities. This is welcome news to those who are hoping for prison reform, yet the total number of facilities affected is only 13 and includes approximately 22,000 inmates. The decision, announced in a memo on Aug. 18 by the U.S. deputy attorney general, Sally Yates, does not affect state prisons, where the majority of inmates in the United States are held. It also excludes immigration detention centers, which, although federally run, are overseen by the Department of Homeland Security.

At the federal level, the change will be gradual: Over the next several years, the government will refrain from renewing contracts with private facilities or will greatly reduce the contracts with them. Although the scale of the decision may seem small and the pace slow, the implications for the prison system could be substantial. This decision creates a model for states to follow. The California State Assembly already has taken steps toward ending contracts for these centers. The Justice Department reported higher rates of assaults at the privately run facilities, putting both inmates and correctional officers at greater risk of injury. Prisons at the state and local level, as well as the immigration detention centers, should also begin to disassociate themselves from private prisons, the number of which has increased over the past 35 years. This move by the Justice Department is a step in the right direction, but for those who hope for widespread prison reform, there remains a long road ahead.

Advertisement
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

The latest from america

In this Dec. 10, 2015, file photo, pedestrians crossing from Mexico into the United States at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry wait in line in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)
U.S. bishops: “It appears that this will be very harmful to families, raising fear among immigrant families already struggling to fulfill the American Dream.”
America StaffSeptember 25, 2018
Father Burke Masters, Chicago Cubs' chaplain, takes part in a practice with players during spring training in March 2016 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz. Cubs Manager Joe Maddon invited Father Masters to practice with the team. (CNS photo/Ed Mailliard, courtesy Topps)
While Father Masters enjoys the perks of being a baseball chaplain—watching games when he has the time and even taking batting practice with the pros—he sees his job as a form of ministry.
Michael J. O’LoughlinSeptember 25, 2018
“Fahrenheit 11/9” is not subtle, and it is not sympathetic to the view that what we need now is civility and centrism.
Robert David SullivanSeptember 25, 2018
Pope Francis caresses a child as he arrives to celebrate a Mass in Freedom Square, in Tallinn, Estonia, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
The pope said he knows that young people “are upset by sexual and economic scandals that do not meet with clear condemnation.”
Gerard O’ConnellSeptember 25, 2018