The Department of Justice’s decision to phase out the use of private prisons in the federal system signals a major milestone in the movement away from mass incarceration. The use of private prisons since the mid-1980s has facilitated the unprecedented growth in incarceration, particularly in the federal system, where one in eight inmates was held in private facilities in 2015.
Over the course of two decades private prisons have not provided any significant cost savings to state or federal governments, but have repeatedly been demonstrated to pose serious concerns about safety and security. Private prisons also have created problems regarding oversight of conditions, limitations on family and attorney visiting, and a lack of recidivism reduction programming.
It has been a stain on our democracy to permit profit-making entities to be handed the responsibility of making determinations of individual liberty. The Justice Department’s action moves us closer to a moment when government can once again assume this important responsibility.