Justice Department Begins Phase-Out of Private Prisons

Five Texas prisons currently under contract with federal government

Big Spring Correctional Center

The Federal Bureau of Prisons will "decline to renew the contract or substantially reduce its scope" with 13 private federal prisons when those prisons' current contract periods are up, according to a memo issued last Thursday by United States Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates – and five of those prisons are in Texas. The decision should affect roughly 22,000 of the nearly 195,000 individuals currently incarcerated in federal prisons, though it remains unclear as to whether the bureau will assume responsibility of the prisons, or if the inmates may be relocated. Yates wrote that the decision to end the contracts had to do both with changes in prison populations (the country has cut its prison population by 25,000 people since 2013) and concerns from the Justice Department about the conditions at private prisons. "They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources," wrote Yates. "They do not save substantially on costs; and ... they do not maintain the same level of safety and security." Inmates in federal prison are often noncitizens convicted of low-level crimes like substance abuse and DWIs.

Currently, the Federal Bureau of Prisons contracts with 13 prisons owned by three corporations – Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group Inc., and Management & Training Corporation – in Texas, California, Oklahoma, Georgia, New Mexico, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Five of those 13 prisons are in Texas: the Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility in Post; Big Spring Correctional Center in Big Spring; Reeves I & II and Reeves III Correctional Institute in Pecos; and the Eden Detention Center in Eden. They house roughly 9,420 inmates altogether, more than any other state.

The Bureau's decision will not affect state-level private prisons, or immigration detention centers such as those in Karnes City and Dilley, which are operated by private prison companies for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). However, on Aug. 18, the same day Yates issued her memo, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced that it would shut down the MTC-owned 450-bed South Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility in Houston as part of an effort to cut its budget. The department has been warned that it may be expected to cut its spending by $214 million.

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