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Justice Department Announces it Will Stop Using Private Prisons

The Justice Department has announced that it plans to end its use of private prisons. In a memo released Thursday by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Justice Department officials were instructed not to renew contracts with private correctional facility operators, or to “substantially reduce” the scope of their contracts.

Yates wrote, “[Private facilities] 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.”

This announcement comes on the heels of recent negative attention toward private prisons in the press. The report that Yates referred to, released by the Inspector General last week, found that private prison facilities had more safety and security incidents than facilities run by the Bureau of Prisons, and that sub-par conditions for inmates were a major factor. Earlier this year, an undercover reporter for Mother Jones released a lengthy, scathing report of his experience working as a prison guard in a private facility, in which he detailed disturbing training practices, use of excessive force, and a general disregard for safety among private prison staff. In a different report that came out this year, The Nation wrote about deaths at private prisons that occurred under suspicious circumstances. On top of that, a major talking point for Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been to dismantle and abolish for-profit prisons throughout his campaign.

While there are over 1.6 million prisoners in the United States and only about 30,000 of them are housed in private prisons operating under contracts with the Justice Department, this shift in policy could be an indicator that private prisons are on the way out across the board. There are still many prisons that have contracts at the state level, but as the general public rejects the idea that jailing people for profit is OK, these contracts will come under increased scrutiny and government bureaucracies will come under increased pressure to cancel them.

Although this news does not specifically address inmates in prison for charges related to cannabis, it can be viewed as another indicator of a gradual change in government mentality regarding the efficacy of the Drug War and its destructive policies.  The change needs to happen faster, and there are still thousands of people unjustly imprisoned for owning or growing a plant, but this blow to the private prison lobby is good news for the legalization movement nonetheless.

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