Five privately-run prisons will close in Texas. (Thomas Hawk/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)
The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that they will end the use of private prisons. The department will review the contracts of 13 prisons and allow them to expire. Five of those prisons are in Texas.
Private prison corporate stocks dropped sharply after the announcement. The Inspector General’s reports found that private prisons had higher rates of violence compared to state-run institutions.
Michele Deitch, a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, says Texas began experimenting with state private prison contracts in the late 1980s, with four private facilities.
“Then the rest of the country started looking at what Texas was doing and expanding their use of (private prisons) as well,” she says. “However, the fortunes of those state-contracted private facilities started falling toward the end of the 1990s and that’s when the federal government got into private contracting.”
Private vendors sold prison contracts to state legislatures saying they were a way of saving money and getting improved performance. “But over time it became clear that neither of those bore out,” Deitch says.
Deitch says since federal private prison contracts began, those facilities have had problems with security, safety, lack of provisions for healthcare, and the delivery of food services – not to mention riots. Deitch says riots ended with an officer killed.
These problems have generated headlines policy makers can’t ignore, she says.
“The country is moving towards trying to reduce mass incarceration in this country,” Deitch says. “And we’re seeing efforts all around the country to reduce the number of people who are locked up – and to eliminate barriers to them getting back into the community. Privatization really runs counter to that.”
Deitch says privately-run prisons tend to cut corners when it comes to staffing, leading to high staff turnover, vacancies and inexperienced staff.
But private- and government-run and prisons share at least one issue, though it’s worse in private prisons.
“There’s a lack of oversight of both public and private prisons in this country,” she says. “But there’s an extra barrier when it comes to oversight of private prisons. They’re very very lacking in transparency and accountability.”
– Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel