7Sep 2016

The Route in Ending Prison Privatization

Queens Detention Facility located in Springfield Gardens, Jamaica, Queens NYC was once working with the state’s criminal justice system to house incarcerated inmates. This private prison facility which was operated by The GEO Group was later locked down due to the controversies involving violation of its inmates’ human rights. Back in 2011, Bill de Blasio, who was then an advocate of New York City Public brought The GEO Group to US department of Justice seeking to end the contract with them stating that “This is not complicated: government should not do business with companies that violate basic human rights”1.

The case with the Queens Detention Facility controversy is just one of the stories we hear about how horrible the life of inmates in custody under the private prisons. The federal state has resorted to engaging private imprisonment contracts with private companies such as The GEO Group and Corrections Corp of America for a number of decades because of its promise of cost-saving opportunities to many states and because of the increase in the inmate headcount which becomes one of the greatest challenges of the criminal justice system. The cost saving opportunity in resorting to the private prison system could mean a long-term budgetary savings and a chance to use the funds instead to other state’s budgetary shortfalls. But despite the cost efficiency promise, countless human rights cases were raised and all fingers were pointed out to how these private prisons have treated the county’s inmates for many years.

On August 18, 2016, many advocates for prisoners praised the twist in the US criminal justice system as part of its commitment to overhaul the system, through an executive memo that was released by the US Department of Justice. The memo was signed by Sally Yates, who is currently the Deputy Attorney General, instructing the officials to limit its resort to private prisons, as she stated the goal is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”2 She has instructed the officials not to renew contracts with these private prison companies, or significantly reduce its scope if it is really necessary for renewal. She further explained in the memo 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” .3

Looking at the statistics, the number of prisoners has multiplied by almost 800% from 1980 – 2013, is the primary reason why the federal state has first resorted to the privatization of prisons, the same sentiment was related by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, to prevent overcrowded public facilities of federal jailhouses. However, with the report that he has released earlier in August, it turned out that private prisons are now more problematic and violent than its public counterpart.
The stories behind the private prisons’ maltreatment of inmates along with other injustices they have brought to the table, anyone who hears the abuse makes one cringe with hatred. Take one example of a human abuse case where an inmate was allegedly urinated and held a shotgun to his head by an employee of Prisoner Transport Services of America while the inmate was in transit. Another horrible story was about how the Florida inmates were helpless to save their own lives from cancer and being treated by a private healthcare company with Tylenol, which is known to relieve fever and pain only, but not treat cancer.

Now that the number of inmates behind bars has substantially reduced since 2013, the chance to get away with privatization is now possible and we can say that in the coming years, it can be possible that all our inmates will be under the custody and care of our public jailhouses, where advocacy and human rights matter more and not how to cut the corners for a profit, unlike how most private companies think of profiting from housing the offenders.

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queens_Detention_Facility
2 https://www.justice.gov/opa/blog/phasing-out-our-use-private-prisons

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