Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Prisons Should Not Be Privately Run

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Prisons Should Not Be Privately Run

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

When D. Ray James Correctional Institution opened in Folkston, Ga. back in 1998, a lot of people there saw it as a boon for business.

I saw it as the start of a twisted trend.

That year, I wrote in the Times-Union that the ribbon-cutting ceremony that welcomed the prison, the talk about it creating 300 jobs and bolstering property tax revenues, was the stuff of a "Twilight Zone" episode because prisons are for rehabilitating prisoners, not reviving economies.

I warned that once prisons become profitable, then the idea of justice becomes corrupted by the profit motive.

Now it seems that the Justice Department is finally acting on what many of us saw coming nearly 20 years ago - although, sadly enough, its reasons have more to do with expediency than justice.

Sally Yates, deputy attorney general, recently announced that the Justice Department would begin to phase out private prisons at the federal level.

Yates wrote that private federal prisons 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 provide the same level of safety and security."

James Correctional Institution, which now holds federal immigration detainees, is one of the 13 privately run federal prisons slated to be ultimately gone.

"This is an important moment in terms of moving in a different direction," Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, told me.

"In doing this, they're [the DOJ] moving to a direction that tries to provide appropriate conditions for rehabilitation and appropriate programming in federal prisons.

"This is important because while private prisons haven't caused mass incarceration, they have created an ease in which it is perpetuated."

Yet while the DOJ's recent move to shut down one engine of the private prison industry is a step forward, that is overshadowed by privately-run state prisons, many of which are fraught with the same dangers and inefficiencies as the privately-run federal prisons, will still continue to be big business. …

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