The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that it plans to stop contracting with for-profit prison companies, a decision that will affect some 20,000 federal inmates.

The decision was outlined in a memo from U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who concluded that for-profit prisons “compare poorly” to the government-run facilities.

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and … they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates said.

In her memo, Yates directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons not to renew existing contracts or to “substantially reduce” their scope, with the goal of “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

But Yates’ directive won’t have any bearing on lucrative contracts that for-profit prison companies have with states, including Hawaii.

Earlier this month, the Hawaii Department of Public Safety awarded a new contract to Nashville, Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America, the largest for-profit prison company in the country, to house up to 1,926 Hawaii prisoners in Arizona.

Civil Beat has been reporting on the contract and concerns it has created in the ongoing series, “Hawaii Behind Bars.”

Saguaro Correctional Center CCA Hawaii Dept of Public Safety sign in parking lot.
About 1,400 Hawaii prisoners are housed at the Saguaro Correctional Center, a 1,926-bed prison owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America, the largest for-profit prison company in the country. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

More Humane Approach?

The Justice Department’s new policy came on the heels of a scathing report released last week by its inspector general that found more safety and security issues at for-profit prisons.

“In most key areas, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions, and that the BOP needs to improve how it monitors contract prisons in several areas,” the report found.

“In most key areas, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions.” — U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General

Prison-reform advocates hailed the new policy.

“Today’s announcement is a sign that the Department of Justice is taking the mass incarceration crisis seriously and is taking a more humane and budget-conscious approach to dealing with one of the country’s most intractable problems,” Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement.

Still, the policy will affect the operation of only 13 prisons used by the Bureau of Prisons — not the 100-plus for-profit facilities used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to house immigrant detainees.

And Hawaii is locked in with the new contract with CCA for three years — or up to five years, if the state exercises its option to extend it twice on one-year increments.

The contract ensures that the state’s longstanding mainland prison operation — begun 21 years ago as a “short-term solution to chronic overcrowding” — will continue.

Under the contract, CCA charges the state a per-diem rate of $71.90 per prisoner, for an estimated total of nearly $45 million a year.

The department now houses about 1,400 Hawaii prisoners — about a quarter of the state’s inmate population — at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, about 70 miles southeast of Phoenix.

Starting in October, the department plans to send an additional 250 prisoners to Saguaro — enough to empty one of four modules at the Halawa Correctional Facility, while its medium-security wing goes through an 11-month upgrade.

A good reason not to give

We know not everyone can afford to pay for news right now, which is why we keep our journalism free for everyone to read, listen, watch and share. 

But that promise wouldn’t be possible without support from loyal readers like you.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help keep our journalism free for all readers. And if you’re able, consider a sustaining monthly gift to support our work all year-round.



About the Author