BUT FOR WHAT REASON?
by Sharon Rondeau
Last August, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates announced that as contracts with private prison operators expired, they were not be renewed by the Bureau of Prisons, which falls under DOJ oversight.
Yates cited an inspector general’s report which found that private prisons were less safe and more prone to injuries of both staff and inmates than government-run facilities.
The decision did not affect ICE’s contracts with private prison operators.
Yates had continued as Deputy Attorney General under Trump but after refusing to uphold his executive order which barred travelers from seven Middle East countries and temporarily suspended the Refugee Resettlement program, she was terminated.
An Associated Press report issued Thursday stated that the Obama-era divestment of private prison contracts could have stemmed from a reduction in the number of federal prisoners as a result of changes in sentencing guidelines. The author of the article, Eric Tucker, speculated that Sessions’s approach to law enforcement, as evidenced during the presidential campaign cycle by Donald Trump, could result in more vigorous prosecutions for drug offenses and violent crimes.
Under President Bill Clinton, sentencing guidelines tightened and the need for more federal prison space increased, resulting in the DOJ’s expansion to privately-run prisons by companies such as CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and the GEO Group.
Several reports, including the AP’s, also speculate that Sessions’s move was prompted by Trump’s intention to identify, locate and arrest criminal illegal aliens and deport them more rapidly than his predecessor. Tighter enforcement of federal immigration laws appeared to have been manifested approximately two weeks ago when nearly 700 criminal illegals were arrested by ICE agents, although the new administration said the activity was scheduled before Trump took office.
The mainstream media often refers to illegal aliens as “immigrants,” although those legally admitted to the United States as “immigrants” are not sought by ICE agents unless they commit a crime before becoming citizens, when they would be subject to deportation if convicted.
One of CoreCivic’s functions is operating detention centers for illegal aliens. Last month the Trump administration announced an end to the “catch-and-release” method used of dealing with illegals during the Obama years which allowed those apprehended at the border or elsewhere to be provided a court date and released into the community on a promise to appear.
According to CBS News on February 16, “When ICE ramps up the number of immigration detainees, it will most likely turn to private companies such as CoreCivic to house them.”
The federal directive does not affect state prisons which are in private hands.
In addition to the problems noted in the inspector general’s report last year, some of CoreCivic’s state-run facilities have been said to be very dangerous and medically substandard. As The Post & Email has reported over the last ten months, dozens of inmates at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC) in Hartsville, TN have related lengthy lockdown periods without recreation, lack of employment and training opportunities, falsification of inmate employment data, failing to receive physician-prescribed medications, cold food, unrestrained gang activity, inmate and officer injuries, a high employee turnover rate, truncated visitation sessions with relatives, and inadequate hygiene facilities and supplies.
CoreCivic reported earlier this month that its earnings increased in the fourth quarter of 2016 partly from TTCC’s operations.
The Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) retains responsibility for overseeing TTCC and the three other prisons in the state which are owned and operated by CoreCivic. Similar reports of conditions at CoreCivic’s Whiteville, TN institution and South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF) have been provided to this publication by inmates and their relatives.
To date, a CoreCivic executive has not responded to The Post & Email’s January 24 letter expressing concern for inmate and staff safety, inmate medical care and the general conditions at TTCC.
As Dave Boucher of The Tennessean has reported, a Tennessee statute allowing only one private prison has been bypassed in a “pass-through” arrangement with the individual county governments in which the state’s four private facilities are located.