"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Friday, August 19, 2016

Some Good News

And long overdue, as far as I'm concerned: the feds are easing out of contracting with private prisons. From WaPo:

The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

“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,” Yates wrote.

The article links to this report, which is worth reading: it details a lack of oversight on the part of the Bureau of Prisons and a lack of attention to procedures (not to mention basic common sense) on the part of contract prisons,

Sadly, the shift doesn't really affect all that many prisons or inmates:

While experts said the directive is significant, privately run federal prisons house only a fraction of the overall population of inmates. The vast majority of the incarcerated in America are housed in state prisons — rather than federal ones — and Yates’ memo does not apply to any of those, even the ones that are privately run. Nor does it apply to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Marshals Service detainees, who are technically in the federal system but not under the purview of the federal Bureau of Prisons.

The directive is instead limited to the 13 privately run facilities, housing a little more than 22,000 inmates, in the federal Bureau of Prisons system.

I think one of the most damaging things that the conservative movement has inserted into the public perception is the idea that private businesses are, by definition, more efficient and better run that any government agency. Sounds good on its face, except that it's not true. Private companies are slaves to the profit motive, which means they will cut corners and slide past rules in order to increase the bottom line. I've never understood the rationale for inserting an additional layer of administration into what is properly a function of government, particularly if that extra layer is all about making money.

And there are just some things that shouldn't be subject to profit-taking -- like schools, roads and bridges, and, yes, prisons. We already know that school privatization -- in which school districts contract out to private companies to run schools -- is, while not a disaster, not all that great a solution. And there's no reason to think that privatizing prisons is working out any better.

At any rate, one hopes that state prison systems, which house most of our glut of inmates, will get the hint. I'm not going to hold my breath, though.

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