Tucson, AZ— Today, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memo that acknowledges the need to “reduce our use of private prisons.” For nearly four decades, the criminal justice system has relied on the use of private, for-profit companies to run the federal government’s prisons and detention facilities.
The American Friends Service Committee welcomes this positive step forward. We have been investigating for-profit prison companies in Arizona and working to end private prison contracts for decades.
“We are glad to see the DOJ finally take the appropriate steps to end the use of private prison management,” Caroline Isaacs, program director stated, “But it took them forty years of data and failed policies to finally take those steps.”
The decision affects only the 13 prisons under contract with the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). They will be “phased out” as contract terms come to an end, or potentially through early termination.
While this is a step in the right direction, the US government continues to contract with for-profit companies for managing other types of detention facilities, including ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the US Marshalls Service. In fact, 60% of the facilities used to hold immigrant detainees are contracted to the same for-profit companies.
In addition, many states, including Arizona, continue to contract with for-profit prison companies to run a variety of jails and prisons. “This is a critical moment for Arizona to re-examine its use of for-profit incarceration and to lay out a new criminal justice strategy modeled after successful approaches in other states,” notes AFSC program coordinator Emily Verdugo. “There is a national movement toward using non-prison interventions for people with drug addictions and mental illness. This not only saves taxpayer dollars, but it is far more effective than prison warehousing at reducing recidivism.”
However, Verdugo cautions, there is a disturbing trend of the same prison profiteers attempting to “re-brand” themselves as providing treatment services and “alternatives to incarceration” in order to preserve their profits. This move, dubbed, the Treatment Industrial Complex (TIC), remains a major concern for criminal justice reform efforts.