In what may be the Obama administration’s parting shot on private prisons, the Justice Department inspector general found in an audit released yesterday that yet another privately run facility is in crisis, suffering from inadequate medical care, persistent understaffing, and weak federal oversight. The audit comes after Obama’s DOJ ordered the Bureau of Prisons to begin closing all of its privately run facilities this summer, and after President-elect Donald Trump has insisted, against mounds of evidence to the contrary, that private prisons “work a lot better.”
Yesterday’s DOJ audit focused upon the Adams County Correctional Center, a federal prison for immigrants operated by CoreCivic, the company formerly called Correction Corporation of America. Four years ago, an inmate riot at the Mississippi prison left a guard dead and 20 people injured. DOJ’s inspector general said in the audit that it is “deeply concerned” that the Adams facility remains “plagued by the same significant deficiencies” that sparked the riot.
The audit directly echoes the findings of a multi-part investigation released earlier this year in The Nation, in partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute, that uncovered vast failures in the Adams County prison and 10 other privately operated federal prisons used to incarcerate noncitizens convicted of crimes. The investigation found that CCA had failed for years to correct deficiencies in the provision of medical care. Inmates died as a result.
Federal monitoring reports that The Nation obtained through a federal open-records lawsuit revealed that Bureau of Prisons monitors documented 34 inmate deaths following shoddy care in privately run federal prisons between January 2007 and June 2015. Fourteen of these deaths occurred in prisons run by CCA, including at least seven in Adams.
In August, just over two months after the release of The Nation investigation, the Department of Justice ordered the Bureau of Prisons to begin a process of ending entirely its use of private prisons. The order also followed an inspector general’s report that concluded privately run prisons overall were less safe and no less costly than those operated by the federal government.
The DOJ ordered the federal private prison system to shrink from 22,000 to roughly 14,000 people by May 2017, and in five years the total private federal prison population was to reach zero. Immediately after the August order, both CCA and the Geo Group, two of the country’s largest private prison firms, lost more than 40 percent of their market value.
Then came the election of Donald Trump. The prison company stocks rallied. Trump’s cast of advisers and presumptive appointees include advocates for prison privatization, including Senator Jeff Sessions, whom Trump will nominate to become the attorney general. Sessions could simply reverse the DOJ’s August order.