In August, the Obama administration sent a firm message to the over $600 million private prison industry. Private prisons do more harm than good, the message basically relayed.
Prisons in the United States are generally run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, but when the system was overwhelmed in the 1980s and 1990s during the “War on Drugs,” private prisons were expanded. Between 1980 and 2013, the federal prison population increased by almost 800 percent, according to a memo released by Sally Yates, the U.S. Deputy Attorney General. Unlike the federally owned and operated prisons, private prisons are for-profit and contracted out by the government.
“Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities,” Yates said in the August statement.
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“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 Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” she added.
At the time, private prisons were the answer to the United States’ prison overcrowding problem. While the U.S. has less than five percent of the world’s population, it has nearly a quarter of the world’s total prison population and the highest prison population rate in the world.
The Obama administration has worked to reduce the population of prisoners who are incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes. In August of 2016, Obama commuted the sentences of 325 people, and during his administration, he has granted 673 commutations – -more than the last 10 presidents combined.
“It just doesn’t make sense to require a nonviolent drug offender to serve 20 years, or in some cases, life, in prison. An excessive punishment like that doesn’t fit the crime. It’s not serving taxpayers, and it’s not making us safer,” President Obama wrote in May.