The Obama administration planned to reduce the number of non-US offenders housed in federal private prisons.
President Donald Trump’s administration is seeking to undo those cuts – and could add more than 1,500 on top.
The potential increases are laid out by the US Bureau of Prisons in a notice for beds in Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facilities, privately-managed prisons primarily for non-US citizens convicted of low-level drug and immigration offenses.
The notice of bids from the Bureau of Prisons was posted on April 21 and signals an increase of 1,607 beds to the system. That could bring the total population in private prisons to 22,894.
The Obama administration’s prior goal: Eliminate 7,200 beds by May 1. That would have brought the inmate population in private prisons to under 14,200.
There are 11 CAR prisons across the country run by three companies: GEO Group, CoreCivic, and Management & Training Corp.
These prisons hold 21,287 inmates, 96% of whom are non-US citizens, according to a Bureau of Prisons spokesman. More than half of all non-US citizens in bureau custody are held at CAR facilities, while non-citizens deemed higher security risks are held at one of 122 other federal prisons.
CAR prisons only hold a segment of the country’s private prison population. There were more than 90,000 inmates in private state facilities in 2015 and other federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the US Marshals Service, also use private prisons.
Last August, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced a plan to wind down the bureau’s reliance on private prisons after an inspector general report found that they posed higher security risks than public prisons.
“Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own [bureau] facilities,” Yates wrote in a memo. “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 of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”
Shortly after taking office, Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Yates’ directive.
“The memorandum changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system,” Sessions said in a memo.
The official solicitation is expected to be posted later this month and contracts can take up to two years to be awarded.
GEO Group had disputed the initial decision by Yates. “We believe that the decision made last August was based on a misrepresentation of the report issued by the DOJ Office of Inspector General,” company spokesman Pablo Paez said in a statement.
GEO Group said it planned to participate in the bid, but referred questions about the contract to the Bureau of Prisons. CoreCivic and Management & Training Corp. declined to comment on the solicitation.
David Donahue, an executive at GEO Group, said on a recent conference call with investors that the posting is “indicative of the continued need for beds by the Bureau of Prisons.”
Carl Takei, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said that the plan is a major blow to the Obama administration’s goals.
“The Bureau of Prisons’ new solicitation is the final nail in the coffin for the Justice Department’s August 2016 phase-out plan.”