Earlier this week, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced that the federal government will be halting its use of private prisons. Although very few federal prisoners are held in private prisons compared to at the state level, this is still an important symbolic decision in response to a recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that found less safety and weaker security in privately run prisons than public ones.
Although the libertarian instinct might be to criticize this decision—why should the federal government have a prison monopoly?—it’s worth recognizing that private incarceration facilities have long been mismanaged and fraught with problems, with disastrous consequences for inmate quality of life. This is a step in the right direction: towards the proper and humane treatment of inmates, and away from punitive experiences and over-incarceration.
Private prisons began in the 1980s, largely as a response to the War on Drugs and subsequent overcrowding. Since private prisons are profit-motivated, their operators (in theory) have incentives to run them well while keeping costs as low as possible.
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