DAYS AFTER INSPECTOR GENERAL’S REPORT SHOWS PROBLEMS AT FEDERAL PRIVATE PRISONS, DOJ CALLS FOR BUREAU OF PRISONS TO DETACH FROM FOR-PROFIT PRISON COMPANIES
On Thursday, US Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates announced that the Department of Justice would begin phasing out the use of for-profit prisons to house federal inmates, noting that private facilities “compare poorly” to those run by the federal government. “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 lnspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates said in a memo to the Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The move came in response to a scathing report from the Inspector General that revealed systemic safety and security problems—like failure to discipline staff, and improper storage of use-of-force videos—at the federal prisons run by for-profit companies (including the scandal-plagued Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group).
The for-profit companies are often accused of medical neglect and abuse, and understaffing. Many of the facilities enforce lock-up quotas and “low-crime taxes”, which carry financial penalties for empty jail and prison beds.
“It has been a stain on our democracy to permit profit-making entities to be handed the responsibility of making determinations of individual liberty,” said the Sentencing Project’s Marc Mauer. “Today’s action moves us closer to a moment when government can once again assume this important responsibility.”
Yates has asked the Bureau of Prisons to let contracts with the private companies expire, or to drastically reduce the scope of the contract, as the federal inmate population continues to decline. Currently, around one in eight federal inmates is housed in a for-profit prison. The total population has dropped from 225,000 in 2013, to 195,000 in 2016. According to Yates’ memo, the feds are housing around 22,600 of those prisoners in 13 private facilities across the nation. In California, Taft Correctional Institution holds 2,187 federal inmates.
The decision doesn’t apply to contracts between US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the same private prison corporations to warehouse undocumented immigrant families. (ICE holds around 62% of locked-up immigrants in private facilities.) Neither are states’ contracts with for-profit prisons affected by the change.
In California, however, a bill introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) would ban cities and counties from contracting with for-profit prison companies to run immigrant detention centers in California. All-told, four municipalities, including cash-strapped city of Adelanto, are contracting with private detention centers and would be affected by the bill. (Read our previous post about SB 1289: here.) The bill made it past the Senate, and now awaits an Assembly vote.
BILL TO STRICTLY LIMIT USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR JUVENILES MAKING ITS WAY TO GOV. BROWN FOR SIGNATURE
On Thursday, the California Assembly unanimously passed an important bill that would drastically limit the use of solitary confinement for locked-up kids. Because the Assembly tweaked SB 1143, the bill has to go back to the Senate—which already passed the bill unanimously—for another vote, before it moves to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for signature.
SB 1143 would block guards from using isolation as a punishment, for convenience’s sake, or as a way to coerce kids, and would limit “room confinement” to four hours at a time. Confinement would only become an option after other, less restrictive options had been exhausted (except when using those alternatives would put kids or staff in danger).
The bill, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), is supported both by juvenile and criminal justice reform advocates and the probation chiefs’ union. A similar bill, also from Sen. Leno, died in committee last year.
“We appreciate the Assembly passed SB 1143 today and agree this well-crafted and thoroughly vetted policy is an important step for California’s juvenile justice system,” said Mark Bonini, President of the Chief Probation Officers of California.
EXAMINING RACIAL BIAS TRAINING AMONG LA COUNTY LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to take a closer look at implicit—or unconscious—racial bias training for LA County Sheriff’s Department cadets, as well as for Probation, the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, the Superior Court, and the Fire Department.
Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas
motion came the week after the sheriff’s department admitted that a deputy mistakenly shot and killed 27-year-old Donnell Thompson, an unarmed man whom deputies believed might be connected to a carjacking suspect who had fired shots at deputies three hours earlier.
“We are facing a crisis of confidence with our law enforcement agencies, particularly in communities of color,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.
The motion calls on the county agencies and departments to analyze their policies for required implicit bias training and report back to the board within 45 days. The sheriff’s department specifically will have to report on how the department measures how well officers perform constitutional policing practices– “monitoring department operations, observance to policies and strategic plans, highlighting achievements and exemplary service of officers, while simultaneously, detecting patterns of bias and misconduct.”
Then, the county CEO and Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations will research what training models are working elsewhere in the nation to break down implicit racial bias and build up racial identity sensitivity in law enforcement agencies and criminal justice systems.
“We must challenge the insidious perception that criminal and dangerous are synonymous with black people and people of color,” said Alex Johnson, the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of California.