WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced this week that it would begin to phase out the use of private for-profit prisons to house federal inmates. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) used private entities to ease overcrowding as the incarceration rate soared, but the number of federal prisoners has been dropping since 2013.
In a Memorandum Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates said that the federal prison population had increased by almost 800 percent between 1980 and 2013. The BOP started to contract with private vendors to accommodate the overcrowding about ten years ago. By 2013, over 30,000 inmates were being housed in private facilities, roughly 15 percent of the federal prisoner population.
TOUGH FEDERAL SENTENCING LAWS CAUSE PRISON POPULATIONS TO SWELL.
The Anti-Drug-Abuse Act of 1986 included mandatory minimum sentences that carried Draconian sentences for even first-time drug offenders. The act came well over a decade after Richard Nixon famously declared “war on drugs” in 1971 and proclaimed “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.”
Fortunately, modern criminologists, lawmakers, and correctional people have started to rethink the severe sentencing laws and efforts to amend and reduce the penalties have been either enacted or are in place.
Yates said, Private prisons compare poorly to existing Bureau facilities and “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’ s Office Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”
We agree with the BOP’S decision to run their own prisons mainly because the private facilities do not provide offenders with adequate programming and opportunities. Although there is ample room for improvement in BOP facilities, the indication is that private concerns provide even fewer opportunities. We welcome such improvements.