Diane talks with Annie Lowrey, staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers economic policy.
The Justice Department will phase out its use of for-profit prisons to house federal inmates. This follows a government report indicating private prisons are not as secure or safe as those federally run, and don’t offer significant cost savings. Prison rights advocates hailed the move. Supporters of the private system criticized it, saying it was partly based on faulty data. The majority of incarcerated Americans are in state prisons, not federal. Some rights groups hope the Justice Department move will set the stage for state prisons to follow suit. We weigh the pros and cons of government and private prisons.
- Senator John Kavanagh State senator, Republican, representing Arizona's 23rd District
- Reginald A. Wilkinson Board member with Management and Training Corp., one of three corporations operating private prisons used by the federal government; he spent more than 30 years in the Ohio Department of Corrections and served as the department's director.
- Carrie Johnson Justice correspondent, NPR
- Carl Takei Staff attorney at the ACLU's National Prison Project
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Overhauling America's criminal justice system is one of the Obama administration's major policy goals. As part of that effort, the department of justice last week announced it will stop using privately run prisons that house federal inmates. Joining me in the studio to talk about how that will be accomplished, as well as the wider implications, Carrie Johnson of NPR and Carl Takei of the ACLU's National Prison Project.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone from Columbus, Ohio, Reginald Wilkinson, board member of Management and Training Corp, one of three corporations operating private prisons used by the federal government. Of course, during the hour, we will be taking your calls, comments, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MR. REGINALD A. WILKINSONThank you very much.
MR. CARL TAKEIThank you. Very glad to be here.
MS. CARRIE JOHNSONPleasure to be here.
REHMCarrie Johnson, what prompted DOJ to announce it's going to phase out reliance on private prisons to incarcerate federal inmates?
JOHNSONI talked with deputy attorney general Sally Yates about this. She gave a few reasons, Diane. One is some recent studies by the justice department watchdog, the inspector general, which suggests that private prisons don't save much money and that there are more assaults, more episodes of contraband and more uses of force in private prisons than in the prisons that the Federal Bureau Of Prisons run. So not a lot of cost savings and a lot more trouble in terms of violence.
JOHNSONThe deputy AG also said that the federal prison population has been declining over the last few years. 25,000 inmates have left the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the last few years alone because of changes in the way we punish drug offenders. And so there's more room in the regular BOP facilities and less demand and less need for these private options.
REHMDo you have any idea how DOJ did this cost comparison?
JOHNSONThey didn't give a lot of data about the cost comparison, but they did seem to say that the episodes of violence, some of the reports that have been conducted by magazines and watchdogs around the country about problems inside these prisons, including, Diane, the death of a corrections officer in one of these private facilities in Mississippi about four years, bore a lot of weight and really weighed on DOJ officials.
REHMAnd Carl Takei, is there -- can you describe the difference in structure between private and federally operated prisons?
TAKEIYeah. These contracts came out of the idea about 20 years ago, as the federal prison population is exploding that private prisons would innovate, they could be cheaper than regular federal prisons and so the contracts were structured in a way that gives them a great deal of freedom to depart from the regular Bureau of Prison's policies. There are hundreds of BOP policies called program statements that govern every detail of how a federal prison is supposed to run. And only a handful of those apply to the private prisons.
TAKEIFor the rest of it, they have to meet certain performance standards, but they don't actually have to implement the BOP policies. So if they feel like, for example, changing the staffing patterns for providing medical care, will save them money, they can do that.
REHMDid they actually do years' long investigations to determine that they didn't like the way these privately-operated prisons were being cared for?
TAKEIWell, this comes after a series of investigations by outside groups, including the ACLU as well as the inspector general's findings. So the ACLU, in 2014, we published a report called "Warehoused and Forgotten," that examined the conditions inside these private prisons that contract with the bureau.
REHMGive me an example of the conditions you found?
TAKEIOne of the things that we found is that they were using solitary confinement cells as overflow space. So people would come in, directly into the prison, who had done nothing wrong and they would be locked in a solitary cell 23 hours a day. Sometimes, they would actually be locked with a roommate for 23 hours a day and, you know, subjected to restricted telephone calls, restricted mail, restricted visits.
TAKEIYou know, this punitive measure that was encouraged by the structure of the contracts that the private prison companies and BOP had signed.
REHMIs there any indication of exactly how much savings were projected when these private prisons first became operative?
TAKEII don't think anybody had a clear idea of how much might be saved and after 20 years of this experiment, you know, there really is no clear evidence of cost savings.
REHMReginald Wilkinson, you're on the board of Management and Training Corporation, one of the three private prisons affected by the department of justice's decision. Tell me your thoughts.
WILKINSONWell, first of all, I'm not just on the board of MTC. I am -- I've been in the corrections work for 43 years now. I spent an entire career with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The last 16 years of my career there, where I retired in 2006, I was the director of the agency. So this is not just a passing fancy for me to be on the board.
WILKINSONI have been a professional in this work for many, many years.
WILKINSONWhen I read the OIG report, yeah, it was a little bit disturbing to me, but because I think it was done pretty quickly and probably without a lot of input from the Federal Bureau of Prisons itself and looking at the data that they have. When we're saying that we compare privately-operated prisons or contract prisons to federal BOP prisons, then it should be apples to apples, not apples to something else. When I was a director in Ohio, we had contract prisons and I made sure that they were exactly the same as the state prison and therefore, I could do my cost accounting.
WILKINSONI could do my baseline evaluations based on comparing those prisons to ones that are very similar. That was not necessarily the case with this study. So I think that's the first issue that I have. And second, prisons are not all the same. We have minimum security, maximum security, medium security facilities, closed security, administrative maximum security prisons and so we need to be specific about the types of prisons that are operated. And the Bureau of Prisons have all of these.
WILKINSONPrivatization or contracting or outsourcing out as well is nothing new. For as long as I've been in this work, we've outsourced work to medical companies, to companies that operate canteens and food service. So it's not a new notion. And it's not a new notion for the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education outsources it's GED. So we're talking about outsourcing necessarily. And for some reason or another, after in 1007 when the federal government asked for the help of the private sector, now they want to say, we don't need your help.
WILKINSONWhen they were having problems with undocumented aliens and wanted to know -- wanted to somehow or another come up with a fix for those problems, the private sector offered a fix for that problem. And in the estimation of at least the Management and Training Corporation, we think we've served that mission well.
REHMAll right. I want to go back to the very first point you made. Carrie Johnson, Reginald Wilkinson said the study was done much too quickly and perhaps did not measure apples to apples. Can you talk about that?
JOHNSONThe Office of Inspector General at the justice department is known for a lot of things and working too quickly, generally speaking, is not one of them. They do fairly fact-intensive audits and pieces of research and investigation. That said, when you read the IG report, which is publically available online, they do indicate that they did, at times, struggle to find perfect comparisons between the 13 or 14 private contract facilities with which the U.S. justice department contracts and Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities.
JOHNSONThat said, the IG concluded that eight times the number of contraband cell phones were found in these private contract facilities compared to regular prison facilities. More uses of force and more assaults by inmates on inmates and by inmates on corrections officers in the contract facilities, the federal contract facilities, as opposed to the regular Bureau of Prison, government-run facilities.
REHMSo what you're saying is at least your reading shows an apples to apples comparison.
REHMAll right. We'll take a short break here. Carrie Johnson is justice correspondent for NPR. Your calls, your comments are welcome, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd we're getting lots of emails, phone calls. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Carrie Johnson, tell us who the kinds of prisoners are who are in these private prisons versus the federally operated prisons.
JOHNSONHere's what we know from the Justice Department, Diane. About 22,000 inmates, federal inmates, are currently incarcerated in these federal contract prisons. They're mostly men, mostly people in the country without papers, undocumented people, and they -- they live under a low-security environment, which means they present not very much of a threat. The Justice Department tends to use these contract facilities for people who have 10 years or fewer left to serve, so they're, generally speaking, reserved for undocumented men with not a lot of time left on their sentences.
REHMAnd what are conditions like in these prisons, Carl Takei?
TAKEIThey're pretty harsh and abusive. A lot of it is driven by the constant need to cut costs to satisfy the shareholders of the private prison companies. When we went there and interviewed people for a report, people described how medical care was delayed and cheaply provided, if they ever got it, how the -- you know, they were not provided programming and education of the kind that you would receive in a regular prison and how, you know, the sanitation was terrible.
TAKEIIn fact in one MTC prison that was operated as a tent city in Raymondville, Texas, the -- there were vermin inside these tents, giant, Kevlar tents housing 200 men apiece, and the toilets would constantly overflow. So there was this constant stench of raw sewage permeating the tent in hot, Texas weather.
REHMAnd how different might that be in a federally operated prison?
JOHNSONFederal Bureau of Prisons facilities tend to have more corrections officers, and while inmates there complain about -- sometimes complain about medical care and the quality and quantity of food, it's not at all the same as the kind of problematic conditions that Carl has just described.
REHMSo we've just gotten an email from Grace in Oklahoma. Please speak to how many governors and representatives are invested as stockholders in the private prison system, Reginald Wilkinson.
WILKINSONI have no idea how many governors and legislators are stockholders with the private prisons. First of all, the Management and Training Corporation is not a publicly traded company. It happened to be that the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America is. So I cannot answer that question because MTC does not have outside participants in its company.
REHMHow do you speak to the kinds of conditions you've heard described here by both Carrie Johnson and Carl Takei?
WILKINSONWell of course I take exception with it, and I've visited all kind of prisons around the world, and I've seen prisons that government-operated that are sometimes equally as unacceptable as the ones I've just heard described. When you look at the prisons that the Management and Training Corporation operates, I would just point people to the evaluations done on the contract by bureau staff and see how, in some cases, we've had exceptional ratings in just about every categorical area.
WILKINSONThe lack of programs is certainly a misnomer, (unintelligible) I can read you of two of the prisons that are operated by MTC, Dalby and Taft, that list at least 20, 25 different kinds of programs. And plus the programs are not the option of the private sector company. It is the contractual arrangement between the organization, in this case the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the contract provider.
WILKINSONBut in this case, in just about every case with MTC, we exceed the number of programs and services that are required by the contract.
JOHNSONWell in this case Reginald Wilkinson is in agreement with a lot of outside watchdogs. What I heard from a lot of prison watchers last week was that the Bureau of Prisons and the Justice Department bear some blame here because under the terms of these contracts, they are supposed to supervise and oversee the quality of programming, food and safety and medical care and the like. And when they identify problems, which is not often enough according to these outside watchdogs, they are supposed to rewrite the terms of the contract or punish these private prison facilities. That has not happened often enough.
JOHNSONAnd in the next five years or so, when DOJ intends to phase out the use of these private contract prisons, we'll have to watch and see if any kind of oversight, additional oversight is exercised.
TAKEIYeah, and one example of this is a prison called Reeves that was -- that's own by the GEO Group, and BOP's own monitors went in and found that from 2006 to 2010, the prison had failed to fulfill the contract terms, that they were unable to successfully follow through on their own corrective action plans and that the lack of health care was greatly impacting the lives of the prisoners in their care.
JOHNSONBut in 2011, the bureau chose to renew that contract, and a bureau official wrote to another DOJ official and said they did this to preserve the bureau's credibility as a solid customer with the private prison companies.
REHMSo what is this shift going to mean for the towns and cities, areas where these private prisons exist? What's it going to mean for employment, Carrie?
JOHNSONWell, there are 13 contract prisons right now that contract with USDOJ. I believe about five of them are in Texas. So the impact may be greatest there, although, you know, by next year Justice says only 14,000 men will remain in these facilities. So over time, it's going to be a slow roll-down. I will say, Diane, that this news was cheered last week by union officials for corrections workers in government facilities and federal government facilities. They very much are happy to see that these inmates will be coming back to regular government prisons, and they are happy to see overcrowding in federal prisons, which had been a problem for decades, starting to go down.
REHMAnd Reginald, what's going to happen to the facilities themselves when they're virtually emptied out?
WILKINSONWell, and not everybody is cheering this news. Quite frankly, you're going to have thousands of employees who work in these facilities, Americans like anybody else, who will be displaced. If the Bureau of Prisons chooses to repurpose these prisons and to put -- or to keep them operating but with government staff, in some cases at a higher cost, then that's a decision they'll have to make. If the prison population of the Bureau of Prisons continues to decline, then invariably they will have to choose which prisons to close. It's not going to be cost-efficient for any government agency to continue to operate a prison when the numbers don't dictate the need.
WILKINSONBut the one piece that I think that is a little bit knee-jerk with this report is, you know, if the -- if there is culpability on behalf of the federal government that somehow or another they didn't monitor these facilities adequately, then why take the position of let's end the relationship. Why not take the position of let's mend it, and not end it? You know, we can fix everything else that we try to do. So why not, you know, take the position that, you know, this is something that's fixable like we would do in most logical cases.
TAKEIWell first, our criminal justice system shouldn't be driven by the profit motive, and it shouldn't be a jobs program. This is a vital government function that needs to be handled carefully and in the hands of people who are accountable to the American public. That's not the case with companies like GEO, Corrections Corporation of America or MTC, which are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, they are not required to turn over a lot of the information that would be turned over by a regular, public prison.
WILKINSONThat's not true, if it's a public document between...
REHMHold on just one moment, Reginald, let him finish.
TAKEIYeah, and in many cases the BOP's own monitoring documents are redacted because the private prison companies asset that the public release of these documents would endanger their competitive standing or release trade secrets.
REHMAll right, Reginald, do you want to respond?
JOHNSONYeah, any time you transmit a document between one organization and the federal government, it is subject to the public records review. After spending many, many years in state government, I know what the rules are, so if it's a public document that's transmitted between a government agency and a private-sector company, it's still a public document.
REHMCarrie Johnson, do you want to comment?
JOHNSONTo the extent any of these records are available to the public, there are often significant redactions for the reasons Carl has described.
REHMAll right, here's an email from Jerry in Kalamazoo, who says the private company that ran Michigan's prisons was a disaster. The burger flippers they hired stole, sold contraband to and raped inmates. But it was also systemic with corporate misdeeds such as serving food with maggots in it. The idea that privatizing can do as good a job as public servants is a fantasy. Have you, Carrie Johnson, heard of situations where food was served infected with maggots?
JOHNSONYeah, there have been a lot of examples, anecdotally and otherwise, about insufficient quantities of food, not feeding people enough, and then when they are fed, the quality of the food is poor. Those and complaints about insufficient or faulty medical care, Diane, have contributed to a lot of unrest and violence in private prisons, including that episode in Adams County, Mississippi, where a corrections officer was killed a few years back.
REHMBut now are the same complaints made about federally operated prisons?
JOHNSONWell, as a Justice Department reporter, I get a lot of letters and emails from prisoners on a regular basis who do complain about food. But the complaints are different in kind than the ones about the contract facilities. Worth noting, Diane, only about 15 percent or fewer of federal inmates at this point are in these private contract facilities. The vast majority remain in federal government-controlled prisons.
REHMAnd how is the federal government going to pay for transfer of all these prisons to federal facilities?
JOHNSONIts' contemplated that some, at least, will be sent back to their countries of origin, since so many of the people in these contract facilities are undocumented people, in the U.S. illegally. Some will be phased back into the regular federal prison population. And this will happen over the course of the next five years or so. So there won't be a huge, immediate, near-term hit.
REHMBut there will be more money needed than for these federally operated prisons that had previously gone to private facilities.
TAKEIWell, this is happening in the context of an overall fall in the federal prison population. You know, in 2013 there were nearly 220,000 people in the federal prison system, and now there are fewer than 195,000. So this is something that can be done without building new federal prisons.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Reginald, could you comment on our listener's email from Kalamazoo on the idea that folks in those prisons hired people who stole, sold contraband to and raped inmates?
JOHNSONWell first of all, I'm not familiar with the contract prison in the state of Michigan, don't believe they have them, especially with the three groups that are -- that are at question right now with the OIG report. The -- I can cite you, you can Google this, there are government prisons who have had similar problems with food service, and so I think we should do some better research on that instead of, you know, automatically saying because there is a problem that it's associated with a private-sector organization. With regard...
REHMI'm just wondering if you can tell me about the complaints that may have come regarding food service in these privately operated facilities.
WILKINSONWell food service is generally the first thing that most clients, inmates, will, you know, have some concern about. I had similar concerns in a dormitory at -- in undergraduate school. The military may have similar concerns with food service. But we think food service is not necessarily as dastardly as people think they are. Plus we have monitors who monitor food service daily. We have people in these federally -- you know, in the prisons that are operated by contract, companies, by federal employees, every day.
WILKINSONThey are there, they are walking around the hallways, they're going through food service, they're going through the medical services, they are going through the housing units and the segregation areas. So if there's a problem, then it should be pointed out to us, not a -- for an OIG report to make some general statements about that. You know, we have these monitors in place for a reason, and if they can't point out the reasons why they're there to be a monitor, then I'm not sure why they're there in the first place if that's the case.
WILKINSONBut the case more than likely is that they do tell us if they see something, and they don't necessarily add up to some of what we are now being told.
JOHNSONClearly the Bureau of Prisons has not done a good enough job, according to the inspector general and others, about supervising and overseeing these facilities, these contract facilities.
JOHNSONIn part, Diane, because it's hard. There is a -- there is a sense of system creep or mission creep where, as Carl mentioned, you want to be part of a team instead of an overseeing. And finally a lot of people in these positions in the federal government were not trained in management, and so you put them in charge of oversight of a federal operation that's a contract operation, and they don't quite know how to do this right.
REHMWell, is there better oversight in those federally operated facilities, Carl?
TAKEIWell, the difference in a federally operated facility is that there isn't this constant tension between the profit motive and the, you know, the appropriate care of the people who are in federal custody. You know, if you allocate $70 per person per day to a federal prison, all of that goes to running the prison. If you pay the same $70 per person per day to a private prison company, they have to skim off some amount of that in order to make profit for their shareholders, for their owners and for their executives.
REHMCarl Takei, he's with the ACLU's National Prison Project. When we come back, your questions, comments. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Now joining us by phone, from Fountain Hills Arizona, Senator John Kavanagh. He's a Republican State Senator Representing Arizona's 23rd District. Welcome to you, Senator.
SEN. JOHN KAVANAGHThank you for having me on.
REHMI know you're a big supporter of private prisons for inmates in your state. Talk about why.
KAVANAGHWell, they provide comparable service to our state prisons, the publicly run prisons. And I think that's an important point. I don't think anybody's saying that one is necessarily better than the other, but we get pretty much the same level of service at a significantly reduced cost. So, we're actually expanding our use of private prisons in Arizona.
REHMSo would you like to see all public prisons privatized?
KAVANAGHNo, not necessarily. I don't want to, you know, rip out the entire public prison system and cause a lot of disruption. But I think as we need facilities, if we will be needing new facilities, we're going to go the private route. I don't think it would administratively or politically feasible to do a total replacement. And it's not necessarily justified.
REHMNow, the Justice Department has said private prisons offer fewer rehabilitative services like educational programs and job training. How do you see that? Doesn't that concern you?
KAVANAGHWell, it doesn't concern me in Arizona, because in Arizona, we write the contract. And in the contract, we say exactly what we want them to provide. And we include education and rehabilitation in the contract. And we have 24/7 state employee inspectors on the sites of all the private prisons to ensure that we have contract compliance. So, if the federal government is saying that they don't have these services for the prisons that they are contracting for, then they're the problem.
KAVANAGHThey're not writing it into the contract. So, I don't know how you can blame a business that you hire for not providing the service that you didn't tell them they should provide.
REHMSenator, I think Carl Takei has a question for you.
TAKEIWell, it's more of a comment about Arizona's own contract monitoring. In 2010, at a private prison run by MTC, called Kingman, three men escaped by cutting a hole in the fence, car jacked and murdered an elderly couple, and then afterward, the Arizona Department of Corrections went in and did a security review, and they found out that despite having written the contract, MTC had gotten away with a ton of contract violations. The MTC staff were inexperienced, undertrained, the routinely ignored alarms.
TAKEIAnd it was after that escape that the state removed 238 prisoners from Kingman until MTC could address the problem, which is when MTC threatened to sue, under the terms of the contract, that Arizona had written, guaranteeing 97 percent occupancy. And the state of Arizona then paid three million dollars for empty beds to the company.
KAVANAGHOkay, well, a couple of quick points there. Number one, they don't run that prison anymore. We have a new operator. Number two, that actually, you're correct, took place under the eyes of state monitors, who as one of your other speakers mentioned, kind of went native, which is a big problem.
REHMI don't understand what that means. Can you explain that?
KAVANAGHWell, in other words, the inspectors were all assigned to the same prison all the time. So, they suddenly become friends and chummy with the people they're supposed to be monitoring. We call that going native and they begin to identify and look the other way and they go out to drinks afterwards. You need to have monitors that are rotated so friendships don't develop and that are very professional. But I would like to make a quick comment. A lot of people point to the Kingman issue as a reason why we shouldn't privatize prisons.
KAVANAGHIn 2004, Arizona gained the dubious distinction of having the longest prison hostage situation of a guard, a corrections officer, in the history of the United States, at our Lewis facility. It was a horrible situation. That was a state run prison. People on my side didn't scream. That is proof that the state can't run prisons, we have to privatize the whole system. You don't make massive policy decisions on aberrations. The Kingman facility is now being run by a different private prison company and I've toured public and private prisons in Arizona.
KAVANAGHAnd quite frankly, I don't think one is necessarily better or worse than the other. The private prisons tend to be newer because they're more recent and I think that the inmates like that. But we get comparable service, and it's for a lower cost.
REHMAnd what about profitability, Senator? Can you talk about that?
KAVANAGHSure. Part of the deal is that they make a profit, which is fine. You know, when I get a virus or a sore throat and I have to go to my doctor, it's a private doctor. And she's making a profit off of me. God bless her. She gives me the service that I ask for, and of course she's going to make a profit. That's how our society works. There's nothing dirty about profit. There's nothing dirty about private. Most people in this country make their living working for private, profit making companies. There's nothing intrinsically better or worse.
KAVANAGHAnd if you want to look at some real problems with public prisons, look what's happening in Rikers Island. As a former New Yorker, I follow that situation. They can't control their own population and their own employees. And they're a public prison, so you can't do generalities.
TAKEIYeah, one of the big differences about contracting, for example, between you and your personal doctor and these private prison contracts is that these are public contracts. And these companies can give a lot of money to legislators and executive officials. Kingman, for example, now has a contract with GEO Group. GEO Group is a company that gave 52,000 dollars to the Governor's re-election campaign. And GEO Group has also given a great deal of money to you, Senator -- Representative Cavanaugh.
KAVANAGHWell, let me address that. First of all, of course, highly organized public corrections officers unions and other correctional union employees, we all know that they don't dabble at all in politics. That's ridiculous. They do. They probably have more influence in politics than the private companies do. The first three times I ran for office, I ran under clean elections where I got government money. And by then, I had already established my preference for new prisons being private because I saw the cost and performance evidence.
KAVANAGHAnd it made perfectly good sense to me. And the number of donations that you get from these companies is miniscule compared the overall number of donations that you need to run a campaign.
KAVANAGHAnd you often get, I mean, it's not -- it's very common for a politician to get donations from people representing both sides of an issue.
KAVANAGHAnd if getting donations somehow taints you, then I'm Mother Theresa compared to big players like President Obama, who gets a zillion times more contributions. Is he not capable of making policy decisions because of all the donations he got?
REHMAll right, Senator John Cavanaugh. He's a Republican State Senator representing Arizona's 23rd District. Thank you so much for joining us.
KAVANAGHThank you for having me.
REHMAnd here's a question from Anthony in College Station, Texas. How likely is it for states to follow suit alongside the federal government? A much larger proportion of private prisons are state or local (unintelligible) than federal. Will this decision by DOJ lead to states moving away from private prisons? Will private prisons use this report to get their act together or will states just ignore the report? Carl.
TAKEIYes. Our hope is that other agencies, state, local, and the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the Immigration Detention System, will use this as an opportunity to reconsider their own reliance on private prisons. Because the three companies that have the Bureau of Prisons contracts, Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group and MTC are the contractors for the Department of Homeland Security and for state governments around the country.
TAKEIAnd now that the Justice Department has firmly declared that its own experiment with private prisons is being ended because of the very poor performance of these contractors, it's going to be very hard for other agencies to defend their reliance on the same contractors. Carrie, what do you think?
WILKINSONCan I comment on it as well?
REHMYes, certainly. Just one moment, sir.
JOHNSONThe Justice Department certainly hopes that its actions last week will be a model for states, but think about this, Diane. They were not able to convince their own counterparts and immigrations and customs enforcement to reduce its reliance on contract facilities. Immigration detainees, people awaiting decisions from immigration judges will remain in private prison custody under federal government (unintelligible) .
REHMAll right. Mr. Wilkinson.
WILKINSONYeah, first of all, it's not an experiment. It never has been with the federal government. And now, I just take exception as well to the earlier comment about skimming. It's not skimming, it's, you know, conforming to the contracts that states and the federal government have written. And second of all, and third, the state of Ohio has already said that we are not going to change the contracts that they have with the private sector companies in this jurisdiction. And I doubt that other states will do the same. I think this report, again, needed to be vetted differently than it has.
WILKINSONAnd it very well may be the case that other states might want to be -- might become more familiar with private prisons and want to seek to do business with them rather than cast them out through a net that I think was not properly vetted.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. First to Steve in Poland, Maine. You're on the air.
STEVECount me an ardent supporter of the show.
STEVEMy comment is, and it's kind of been somewhat addressed by your guests today, but it seems to me that there's a fundamental systemic or maybe even constitutional problem with the idea of a private prison. Because it -- you have a profit incentive for keeping incarceration rates high. And that just seems -- you know, you create this kind of toxic feedback loop where companies are going to support political candidates in order to keep -- that are want to keep incarceration rates high. So that they continue to have a clientele for their prisons. I'll take my response off the air.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Carrie.
JOHNSONWell, the Justice Department entered into this arrangement back in 1997 because they simply didn't have enough room in public facilities for all the inmates crowding the federal prisons. That has changed, Diane. And what may be changing, and what the Justice Department leaders and the Obama Administration hope is changing is our approach to crime and punishment for non-violent offenders, particularly people convicted of drug offenses. They have been pressing for five years or more now for fewer people to enter the prison system who may be addicted to drugs or other substances.
JOHNSONOr may have had some kind of experimentation with drugs, possession of drugs, but did not commit violent offenses. They're hoping, by charging fewer of those people and locking fewer of those people up, that the need for private prison space will be reduced and that's the gamble they made last week.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Margaret in Florida. You're on the air.
MARGARETHi. Hi Diane.
MARGARETHello to all of you. This is near and dear to my heart. I had a son that was incarcerated in Florida for a short period of time on drug offenses. And he was in the state run, one of the state run prisons and then they moved him to another private run prison up by Alabama with an overcrowded population. It was a nicer facility, he said. They do not have any programs. He was one of the few offenders in the correctional facility in Florida that had a college education.
MARGARETSo, he was a teacher and helped guys get their GED when they were in the state run facility. They had no programs at the private run facility. And they also put in the -- my son was a minimum security, so it was a drug offense, and it was a -- he was a minimum security. At this private run facility, they put all of the prisoners in together. So, they were -- if you were a murderer, you were put in with a -- someone that might be in for a year or two. And you were put in cells.
REHMAll right. And you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Does that kind of mixing happen in federal facilities as well as privately run facilities?
TAKEIMixing security levels is something that's widely, you know, that's just an unacceptable correctional practice. And I think that there's a consensus among corrections professionals about that. Because it just creates a lot risks. You know, why go to the trouble of trying to classify people according to risk and misconduct and then put the maximum security people together with the minimum security people?
REHMWhat about that, Reginald?
WILKINSONNo, I -- he's absolutely correct and that's the first thing that happens. In fact, when the new inmates come to the system, they're generally placed in a diagnostic situation and they are not mixed with anybody until they can be properly diagnosed with their -- you know, trying to determine their health needs, their mental health needs, their previous work histories, their security risk. All those things need to be evaluated, and they are all part of a classification process that every prison, every jail must go through.
WILKINSONThat's kind of basic corrections practice. And the last thing we want to do is to mix people together who should not be in the same cell or the same housing unit.
REHMAll right. Caller who could not stay on the line, Kim from York, Pennsylvania wants to know how many non-DOJ private prisons will still be operating. Carl.
TAKEIWell, if you look at CCA and GEO Group, that's the easiest place to look, because they have to publicly report these numbers, since they're publicly trades corporations. For CCA, more than half of their revenue comes from federal contracts. The majority of that is from immigration detention facilities. Including, you know, the biggest single chunk of that is one facility in Texas that is devoted to detaining children and mothers who have recently entered the United States, many of them coming from Central American countries to seek asylum.
REHMSo, do we have any idea, Carrie, how many of these private run prisons will continue to operate?
JOHNSONThe vast majority, Diane, we know between one and a half million and two million people are incarcerated in the US annually. There are 193,000 in DOJ custody, so the vast majority of the people incarcerated in the US are incarcerated in state or local facilities. And I think, what, 50 or 60 percent of those Carl are people in private detention of some sort or other.
TAKEIYeah, for immigration detention, it's more than 60 percent of the beds are privatized.
REHMAll right. Well, clearly it's a subject that ignites a lot of passion. We shall see what happens next. Carrie Johnson of NPR, Carl Takei of the ACLU's National Prison Project. And Reginald Wilson. He is Board Member with Management and Training Corps. He's spent more than 30 years in the Ohio Department of Corrections and served as that department's director. Thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Diane talks marriage and its challenges, both in quarantine and in normal life, with Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue. The couple, married for 40 years, have a new book called "“What Makes a Marriage Last: 40 Celebrated Couples Share With Us the Secrets to a Happy Life.”
Diane talks with Jeffrey Selingo, author of the forthcoming book "Who Gets In & Why: A Year Inside College Admissions."
Diane asks Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "The World: A Brief Introduction."