The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Thursday plans to shutter its use of private prisons. The agency made this decision after realizing—correctly—that private prisons provide reduced services, increased costs, and less security than prisons run by DOJ’s own Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
It’s important to note that this change only affects the DOJ’s use of private prisons, and it is going to take some time before federal reliance on private prisons is completely eliminated.
And while the Justice Department should be commended, it is not the only agency that makes use of private prisons. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency comprise a much larger component of the federal prison system. Even more troubling, the detention centers run as private prisons for DHS might have an even worse track record on medical and mental health treatment than DOJ’s private prisons.
While journalists and public policy organizations have been critical of the use of private prisons for years, it seems as though the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General (DOJ OIG) might be to thank for pushing the agency over the edge. Just one week ago, the DOJ OIG released a report on the lack of safety and security at private prisons compared to BOP run prisons. The report found that private prisons had more negative incidents per inmate than BOP prisons in six out of the eight categories the DOJ OIG investigated. The DOJ credits the OIG in its announcement, at least for its role in highlighting reduced safety and security at private prisons.
The Office of Inspector General at Homeland Security should now follow the lead of its counterpart at Justice and investigate DHS’s use of private prisons.