The Justice Department plans to phase out its use of private prisons, after a report concluded that they are significantly inferior to government-run prisons. That’s a significant step forward, but America has much further to go if we hope to fix our deeply flawed criminal justice system.

In a memo released Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote that private prisons “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 of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.” For these reasons, Yates’ goal is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

Unquestionably, that’s a noble and important goal. Private prisons are one of the most egregious examples of crony capitalism in America. The Federal Bureau of Prisons spent $639 million on private prisons in 2014. Aiming for as much profit as possible, private prisons cut corners that government-run prisons don’t.

These corporations exploit, and sometimes encourage, mass incarceration and overcriminalization in order to boost their profits.

In many situations, it’s a good thing that profit motive makes companies more productive and effective; mass incarceration is not one of those situations. No one should profit from the imprisonment of human beings. As Matt Zwolinski, a libertarian and philosophy professor at the University of San Diego, has written, “If the government is violating people’s rights, do we really want to help them be more efficient about it?”

With that said, the fight against private prisons — and especially mass incarceration — is far from over.

For one, Yates told The Washington Post that it’s “hard to know precisely” when private prisons will no longer have federal inmates, but she hopes that, by May 1, there will be fewer than 14,200 inmates in such facilities. That’s less than half of the nearly 30,000 federal inmates that were held in private prisons at the peak in 2013. The federal prison population surged almost 800 percent from 1980 to 2013.

Furthermore, this announcement only affects the Federal Bureau of Prisons system. It has 13 private prisons, five of which are in Texas. But there are around 130 private prisons across the country in total.

Nor does the change affect one of the private prisons’ best clients: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, under the Department of Homeland Security. According to the Center for American Progress, for-profit prisons operated 62 percent of all immigration detention beds in 2015; in comparison, in 2014, for-profit prisons only held 8.4 percent of federal and state prisoners.

Again, the Justice Department’s announcement is a step in the right direction. But the department is only trying to phase out — not immediately end — its use of private prisons, which held almost 23,000 federal inmates as of December 2015.

In total, though, over 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States. That makes America home to almost a quarter of the world’s prison population, despite having less than 5 percent of the world’s population. According to the BBC, more than 90 percent of U.S. prisoners are held in state and local prisons — not federal prisons, let alone private prisons funded by the federal government.

Private prisons are a serious problem that need to be addressed, and I hope more government agencies follow the lead of the Justice Department. But mass incarceration and overcriminalization are much bigger problems.

In addition to working against locking people up in for-profit prisons, we must work against locking up so many people altogether.

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Mac McCann is an editorial board intern with the Dallas Morning News. He can be reached at rmccann@dallasnews.com.


(15) comments


Climate...what a shocker. Next thing you will tell me is that the 47% who pay zero in income taxes and the vast majority of welfare recipients also vote democrat.

Isn't it funny that those with the loudest voices to spend more on education seem to get the least out of it and pay virtually none of the bills?


Matt Swolinski sounds like a lunatic. He's concerned about violating the human rights of the inmates. He never mentions being concerned about the rights of the victims of the inmates. Duh!


The author of this article is obviously an idiot. Corporations do not incarcerate people, judges do. If for profit prisons can save taxpayers even 1 penny, then they are worth it.

This is Obama appeasing the public unions who oppose any common sense solutions to save money. Ideally, democrats would just quit committing crimes and start paying into the federal treasury, but we all know that is not going to happen anytime soon.

Democrats don't want to stop crime, they just want to stop prosecuting criminals. Hillary is the perfect person to represent that party.


I know someone who doesn't fully read the news. And his alias begins with d and ends with y.


Ignore trolls like him, don't respond--ever--and the go away. They feed off of responses with one hand on the keyboard.


Machi...The Clinton "foundation" and everyone associated should be indicted under RICO. Anybody, including the President who flys in 100's of millions in foreign currency to a State sponsor of terrorism should also be indicted. If this was a legitimate payment, why was it hidden and paid with paper currency instead of a wire?


We don't need to ban democrats. We just need a way to protect the rest of us tax payers from them. I think an interment camp someplace far away where they could set up their marxist society. Think how great this country would be if you could get rid of the crime and economic drain that is almost all due to democrats?

Union Man

LOL, you can always tell when daddy's little republicon is running low on his allowance, the winey baby pissy pants begins


A new study of how criminals vote found that most convicts register Democratic, a key reason in why liberal lawmakers and governors are eager for them to get back into the voting booth after their release.

“Democrats would benefit from additional ex-felon participation,” said the authoritative study in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

The authors, professors from the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University, found that in some states, felons register Democratic by more than six-to-one. In New York, for example, 61.5 percent of convicts are Democrats, just 9 percent Republican. They also cited a study that found 73 percent of convicts who turn out for presidential elections would vote Democrat.


Where do they plan to house all the democrats that are in those prisons? The gov is inefficient at doing just about everything. The is politics to hire more federal union employees?

Since 90% are democrats and a significant number are illegals? they will probably release them and let them vote.

We need to find a long term solution to housing democrats. One way or another the rest of us tax payers are paying for it. Given the huge % of democrats that are prone to crime, may it's time to consider internment camps in Northern Greenland for all democrats. When total incarceration and welfare costs are considered, we would be money ahead and wouldn't have to put up with their nonsense.


Why not just ban the party entirely? Dictators do it all the time.


You're an idiot.


You really have a way with words! And a clear understanding of sarcasm.


Here's how it works: #1. Complaint that the government in inefficient at doing something. #2. Claim that if we "privatize" it, things will be better. #3. Make a deal with your pals to go private. #4. Loosen regulations for your pals to help them make more money. #5. Distance yourself from you pals and ask for more time to study the matter when they cut so many corners that people are harmed. #6 Repeat as needed.


[alien][alien][alien]Good deal. Now, how do we phase out Trump University?

Former Trump University Workers Call the School a ‘Lie’ and a ‘Scheme’ in Testimony

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