Surprise, surprise. NOT!

Terminating private prison contracts should not come as a surprise to anyone. It is simply “The Perfect Storm” of events.

First, The advocacy world understands future trends were already pivoting away from mass incarceration. It actually started at the state level and the Feds are simply late to the table.  For many years we have been hearing about the “Right/Left” coalition on justice reform specifically partially focused on prison population reduction.

Second,  the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ budget is over 6 billion dollars and consumes a very large percentage of the entire DOJ budget. The status quo was simply unsustainable.

Lastly, look no farther than the many scandalous stories about riots, medical care and the recent Mother Jones expose with Shane Bauer.

There is no doubt  that the hiring practices, lack of transparency and profit motive of private entities negatively impact facility operations, programs and services. I’ve worked in the prison industry for 30 years and have heard horrendous privatization stories from justice involved individuals going back almost two decades.

Before we start celebrating, we need to stay focused in reality.  Though this is a positive first step and set back for the Prison Industrial Complex, (PIC) I have some concerns regarding this development.

One: The federal government has not gone far enough to abolish private re-entry center (aka: halfway house) contracts which have also failed to provide adequate  re-entry services which have negatively impacted public safety and recidivism.

Two: As they terminate contracts, my fear is that the already overcrowded federal prisons will absorb that excess capacity to the detriment of those same programs and services. Though this process will be incremental, it will inhibit the reduction of current rated capacities.

This privatization experiment has roots back to the Reagan administration and came to fruition during the Clinton Administration.  It seemed well intended to  allow the private sector to accomplish correctional goals without the restraint of dysfunctional bureaucracy; however, the extreme opposite and centric goal of “profit” was equally dysfunctional. It’s been many years since the “Taft Demonstration Project” report that found there was not much(if any) cost savings to privatize in the first place.

What we need going forward for true reform is what I refer to as a comprehensive, urban “Restorative Treatment Center” concept which is a public/private collaboration with government, industry, academia and the various community based NGO’s. This multi-faceted prototype would include diversionary courts, treatment and training  both residential and non-residential. It would be based in the urban areas near the resources and families rather than on top of some mountain in a politicians depressed back yard.

I truly hope the news today is a catalyst for evolving from a third world justice system rather than a future power struggle with the PIC, Lobby groups and politicians who have vested interest in profiting from justice initiatives.

On a lighter note, I am just going to lay back and think about the potential consulting opportunities from the ex-BOP administrators who retired to the private prison sector and received this insider information from their cronies prior to todays market!