After a Mother Jones investigation into a private prison in Louisiana, the US Justice Department announced today that they will end the practice of privatizing prisons. The announcement is a huge win for anyone concerned with prison reform and human rights in this country.
After a journalist from Mother Jones went inside a private prison in Louisiana owned by Corrections Corporation of America disguised as a prison guard and published what he witnessed there in a powerful first-person narrative, followed by a damning federal report on the increased dangers to inmates and staff in private prisons, the US Department of Justice made the only move they could if we are to remain a country that says we believe in human rights.
The report showed clearly that privately-owned prisons are ineffective in protecting the safety of both staff and inmates. Compared to federal facilities, private prisons were found to have a 28% higher rate of assaults by inmates against other inmates, more than twice the number of assaults against staff, as well as twice as many weapons.
“Lockdowns,” or confining prisoners only to their cells, also occur at an enormously higher rate at private prisons. The average federally-owned prison has approximately 11 lockdowns per year due to the safety of staff or inmates being compromised. Privately owned prisons had an average of 101.
Shane Bauer, the journalist from Mother Jones who worked at a privately-owned prison in Louisiana, told a harrowing tale of what he witnessed there. Among other instances of serious abuse of power, Bauer described makeshift courts led by prison staff that had serious effects on an inmate’s chances of freedom. In one case that Bauer described in detail, prison staff punished a man for using a broom.
‘FOR REMOVING A BROOM FROM A CLOSET AT THE WRONG TIME, THIS INMATE WILL STAY IN PRISON AN EXTRA 30 DAYS, FOR WHICH CCA WILL BE PAID MORE THAN $1,000.’
The example spotlights the exact problem with the privatization of prisons. As long as there is a financial incentive to keeping prisons full and inmates inside, providing unpaid or minimally-compensated work for corporate America, the United States will continue to have the highest incarceration rate of any country on the planet.
The Washington Post reports that the decision to end the privatization of prisons was announced by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in a memo, where she instructed department officials not to renew any existing contracts or to “substantially reduce” the scope of the contracts with the ultimate goal of ending the use of private prisons entirely.
For more of Shane Bauer’s moving and powerful story, see video below: