Bernie Sanders Wants To End Private Prisons. That's Really Ambitious.

September 17, 2015
Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -- Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation on Thursday that promises to ban government contracts for privately run prisons and jails within three years. Implementing such a plan would be an ambitious effort, as it would give authorities more than 100,000 additional inmates to manage -- the number held in private facilities as of 2013. The bill's immigration provisions are similarly bold.

"We have got to do everything that we can as a nation to end that reality of locking up so many people, and we have got to do it as rapidly as possible," Sanders said at a press conference on Thursday.

The Justice Is Not For Sale Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and other lawmakers, would ban federal, state and local governments from contracting with private companies to run prisons and other detention facilities. Within three years, facilities housing prisoners must be under government control. 

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The bed mandate and use of private prison contractors, in particular, are incentives for immigration agents to apprehend and detain as many people as possible, according to advocates for reform. The government is required to maintain 34,000 beds to hold immigrants who are undergoing deportation proceedings. 

Officials say they consider that mandate to refer to having the capacity to detain that number, not actually having those beds full at all times. But more people in detention means more money for the companies housing immigrants awaiting deportation, because 62 percent of beds are in privately run facilities, according to the civil rights group Grassroots Leadership.