Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates says that a decrease in the number of federal inmates has given officials the opportunity to re-evaluate the use of private prisons. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)

The Justice Department announced Thursday that it will end its use of private prisons after officials concluded such facilities are less safe and effective than those run by the U.S. 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 Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in a memo.

The decision follows major investigations by Mother Jones and The Nation and a study by Justice Department officials.

The Washington Post reports:

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.”

The Justice Department’s inspector general last week released a critical report concluding that privately operated facilities incurred more safety and security incidents than those run by the federal Bureau of Prisons. The private facilities, for example, had higher rates of assaults — both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff — and had eight times as many contraband cellphones confiscated each year on average, according to the report. Yates said there are 13 privately run facilities under the Bureau of Prisons purview.

“The fact of the matter is that private prisons don’t compare favorably to Bureau of Prisons facilities in terms of safety or security or services, and now with the decline in the federal prison population, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to do something about that,” Yates said in an interview. …

According to the inspector general’s report, private prisons housed roughly 22,660 federal inmates as of December 2015. That represents about 12 percent of the Bureau of Prisons total inmate population, according to the report.

In her memo, Yates wrote that the Bureau of Prisons began contracting with privately run institutions about a decade ago in the wake of exploding prison populations, and by 2013, as the federal prison population reached its peak, nearly 30,000 inmates were housed in privately operated facilities. But in 2013, Yates wrote, the prison population began to decline because of efforts to adjust sentencing guidelines, sometimes retroactively, and to change the way low-level drug offenders are charged. She said the drop in federal inmates gave officials the opportunity to reevaluate the use of private prisons.

Yates wrote that private prisons “served an important role during a difficult time period,” but they had proven less effective than facilities run by the government. The contract prisons are operated by three private corporations, according to the inspector general’s report: Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group and Management and Training Corporation. The Bureau of Prisons spent $639 million on private prisons in fiscal year 2014, according to the report.

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—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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