U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday made clear his intentions to reverse an Obama-era decision to phase out the federal use of private prisons.
In a memo addressed to the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons, obtained by MSNBC, Sessions said the DOJ’s announcement last August “changed long-standing policy and practice” and “impaired the bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.”
The Obama administration’s decision to end the use of private prisons at the federal level, issued last summer by former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, came on the heels of a report from the DOJ’s inspector general. The report described a litany of issues, including unchecked violence between inmates and staff, poor security, overcrowded conditions, and overreliance on solitary confinement at facilities operated by three private prison behemoths: Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation.
Sessions’ memo is the latest signal that Trump’s DOJ will take a decidedly different path from the Obama administration, which sought reforms to the criminal justice system during its two terms.
“This means a significant step backwards for criminal justice reform and a sign that the administration wants to cozy up to the private private industry, which gave it a lot of money in terms of campaign contributions,” said Bob Libal, executive director at Grassroots Leadership, a civil rights group that studies and promotes an end to private prisons.
“This is a sign that under President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, America may be headed for a new federal prison boom,” said Carl Takei, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “It’s a recipe for abuse and neglect.”
For criminal justice reform advocates like Libal and Takei, the news doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, however. On the campaign trail, Trump spoke favorably of private prisons, and his team received generous donations from private prison companies. Sessions has also long touted himself as a criminal justice hard-liner and repeatedly affirmed his support for private prisons throughout his career. Two former Sessions’ aides even went to work as lobbyists for the GEO Group after the Obama administration’s announcement last year.
Private prison stocks rose after the news Thursday evening, continuing their surge since the election in November.
This story is developing.