Reversing yet another Obama administration decision, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that the federal government would resume the use of private, for-profit prisons.
Only six months ago, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates had asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons to phase out its use of the controversial prisons by no longer renewing contracts. The directive affected 13 private prisons across the country that housed roughly 22,000 inmates. Nearly half of those inmates were housed in Texas at five private prisons.
"Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities," wrote Yates, who was fired by President Donald Trump after she directed the Department of Justice not to defend Trump's travel ban. "They 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."
But on Thursday evening, Sessions appeared to write off these findings as insignificant. In a one-paragraph memo, he wrote:
“The memorandum changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system. Therefore, I direct the Bureau to return to its previous approach.”
“Today’s announcement is yet another edict from this administration that undermines civil rights for incarcerated people and criminal justice reform efforts,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership. “This administration appears to be more interested in lining the coffers of its friends at private prison corporations than promoting commonsense policies that would reduce the incarcerated population and close troubled prisons.”
As the Washington Post reported, the private prison industry donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Donald Trump's presidential campaign. One such $100,000 donation was sent in from private-prison giant GEO Group just one day after Yates announced they would be discontinued.