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Reducing our Use of Private Prisons, DOJ Yates memo, August 18, 2016

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U.S. Department of Justice

Office of the Deputy Attorney General

Washington, D.C. 20530

The Deputy Attorney General

August 18, 2016

SallyQ. Yates~
Deputy Attorney General


Reducing our Use of Private Prisons

Between 1980 and 2013, the federal prison population increased by almost 800 percent,
often at a far faster rate than the Federal Bureau of Prisons could accommodate. In an effort to
manage the rising prison population, about a decade ago, the Bureau began contracting with
privately operated correctional institutions to confine some federal inmates. By 2013, as both the
federal prison population and the proportion offederal prisoners in private facilities reached their
peak, the Bureau was housing approximately 15 percent of its population, or nearly 30,000
inmates, in privately operated prisons. 1
Since then, for the first time in decades, the federal prison population has begun to
decline, from nearly 220,000 inmates in 2013 to fewer than 195,000 inmates today. In part, this
is due to several significant efforts to recalibrate federal sentencing policy, including the
retroactive application of revised drug sentencing guidelines, new charging policies for low­
level, non-violent drug offenders, and the Administration's ongoing clemency initiative. Now,
three years since the Department of Justice announced its Smart on Crime initiative, our efforts
to address the pressures facing the Bureau are seeing real and positive results.
Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that
they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities. They simply do not provide the same level of
correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as
noted in a recent report by the Department' s Office oflnspector General, they do not maintain
the same level of safety and security. The rehabilitative services that the Bureau provides, such
as educational programs and job training, have proved difficult to replicate and outsource- and
these services are essential to reducing recidivism and improving public safety.


As you know, the Bureau also maintains contracts with private companies to operate hundreds of
community-based Residential Reentry Centers, or "halfway houses," across the country. These facilities provide
short-term transitional housing and community-based reentry services such as employment assistance. The use of
private companies to operate Residential Reentry Centers is not the focus of this memorandum .

For all these reasons, lam eager to enlist your help in beginning the process of
reducing--and ultimately ending-our use of privately operated prisons. As you know, all of the
Bureau's existing contracts with private prison companies are term-limited and subject to
renewal or termination. I am directing that, as each contract reaches the end of its term, the
Bureau should either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope in a manner
consistent with law and the overall decline of the Bureau's inmate population.
I am aware that the Bureau is already taking steps in this direction. Three weeks ago, the
Bureau declined to renew a contract for approximately 1,200 beds. Today, concurrent with the
release of this memo, the Bureau is amending an existing contract solicitation to reduce an
upcoming contract award from a maximum of 10,800 beds to a maximum of 3,600. Taken
together, these actions will allow the Bureau to end the housing of inmates at three or more
private contract facilities over the next year, and will reduce the total private prison population to
less than 14,200 inmates by May 1, 2017-a greater than 50 percent decrease since 20 I 3.
These steps would be neither possible nor desirable without the Bureau's superb and
consistent work at our own facilities. I am grateful for the tremendous and often unheralded
work done by Bureau staff. When a higher proportion of America's prison population benefits
from those efforts, we will improve outcomes for them, for law enforcement, and for the wider
community we serve. As a career prosecutor and fellow law enforcement professional, I thank
you and your staff for your extraordinary service to this nation.


Lee Lofthus, Assistant Attorney General for Administration