Private prisons have been controversial. A lot of people believe that for-profit prisons are evil and that all prisons should be owned and operated by the government. Somehow people think slave labor is morally superior when the government owns the slaves. I don’t understand that mentality. A cage is a cage and a slave is a slave. Regardless of my opinion, the Department of Justice (DoJ) has announced that it will keep all future federal slave laborers for Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR):
The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”
Since this announcement private prison stocks have fallen pretty hard even though most private prisons hold contracts with state or county governments:
While any reduction in the federal prison population will be welcomed by those released, their families, and by reform advocates, the majority of inmates reside in state or county facilities. Only one in eight federal inmates was in a private facility in 2015.
So this change doesn’t affect many prisoners and won’t put Corrections Corporation of America or GEO Group out of business. But the falling stock prices weren’t unexpected and I bet many of the higher ups in the DoJ as well as those in the know in Congress made a good deal of cash shorting those stocks.
There is also the question of how long this decision will last. In December of last year the DoJ announced that it would stop paying civil forfeiture money under the Equitable Sharing Program. A lot of people heralded the decision as a victory over civil forfeiture. Only a few months later the DoJ announced that it would resume those payments. It’s quite possible the DoJ will announce plans to continue using private prisons in a few months, perhaps around November 4th when everybody is distracted by the election.
One thing is certain, nothing meaningful has changed. The DoJ didn’t announce that it would stop enslaving people or that it would stop using private prisons and abolish UNICOR. It merely said it would stop handing out slave laborers to UNICOR’s competitors.