Tucson, AZ— Today, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memo that acknowledges the need to “reform federal halfway houses.” Since the 1960’s, halfway houses (now called Residential Re-entry Centers- RRCs) have been used to facilitate a formerly incarcerated person’s transition back into the community. The decision affects approximately 103 different contracts for 181 facilities nationwide. All of these are fully privatized through a mix of contracts with for-profit companies and non-profit organizations.
The memo reiterates the stance in its previous memorandum on ending the use of private prisons, stating flatly that “the Department has serious reservations about outsourcing the Bureau’s core correctional and rehabilitative services to private companies”
In an effort to “reform the private market for RRC’s” the memo outlines a set of requirements including establishing uniform standards for all RRC providers; collecting quarterly data on performance metrics; and expanding oversight and monitoring on contracts. The most surprising aspect of these new requirements is the fact that they were not already in use, as they are some of the most basic measures of “good government” oversight.
But the memo also takes a few steps toward substantive reform. The Department pledges to develop a plan to limit the requirement that residents pay a “subsistence fee” of 25% of their gross pay while living in an RRC. These fees have proven to be a tremendous financial burden on many people returning from prison. The memo also recognizes the need to ensure that inmates receive their government-issued ID before their release from prison. This critical step will streamline the processes of obtaining work and housing for these individuals.
Part of the directive states that in order to establish uniform standards for all facilities, the Department will attempt to procure a single nationwide contract. This would be a significant step toward ensuring consistency in services. It also represents an extremely lucrative contract for any for-profit operator.
The American Friends Service Committee welcomes this positive step towards accountability and responsible government contracting. We have been investigating for-profit prison companies in Arizona and working to end private prison contracts, whether for prison facilities or community corrections, for decades.
As part of this work, AFSC and a network of national partners, including Grassroots Leadership and the Southern Center for Human Rights, have called attention to a new trend they have termed the Treatment Industrial Complex. This refers to the efforts of for-profit prison companies like GEO Group and CCA (now CoreCivic) to rebrand themselves as humane providers of treatment and rehabilitation services. In particular, the newly re-named CoreCivic has been moving aggressively to obtain contracts for residential reentry.
While AFSC lauds the move toward consistency, accountability, and performance measures, we remain concerned as the US government expands the use of surveillance, such as electronic monitoring. The memo makes several references to the expanded use of “home arrest” as a less-restrictive option than housing in RRCs. Yet, there is no mention of whether this will require electronic monitoring or other services that are currently being provided by for-profit prison companies like GEO Group.
“We have a serious concern that the proliferation of this surveillance technology, via smart phones or ankle bracelet monitors, is being used less as an alternative to incarceration and more as an alternative form of incarceration.,” notes AFSC program coordinator Emily Verdugo. “We are extremely wary of policies that claim to offer “alternatives” while instead widening the net of people under the control of the criminal justice system.”
Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem, 2011
White Paper on Prison Privatization in Arizona: https://morrisoninstitute.asu.edu/sites/default/files/content/products/AFSC.pdf
The Treatment Industrial Complex: http://www.afsc.org/resource/treatment-industrial-complex-how-profit-prison-corporations-are-undermining-efforts-treat-a