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US Justice Department reinstates use of private prisons

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a move from the Obama administration, ending an order to phase out private prisons. Sessions said the prisons are necessary for the correctional system's "future needs."

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions scaled back a move from the Obama administration Thursday by allowing private contractors to run federal prisons.

Obama made an effort to reduce the number of private prisons in the US in one of his final actions in the White House. Sally Yates, the deputy attorney general at the time, issued a memo to phase out the use of private prisons during the final months of the Obama administration by announcing it would stop renewing contracts with private prison companies running federal prisons in August 2016.

Sessions issued a memo Thursday to counter Yates' memo, saying Yates went against a policy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to involve private companies, "and impaired the bureau's ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system."

US President Donald Trump supports private prisons. "I do think we can do a lot of privatizations and private prisons. It seems to work a lot better," Trump told American broadcaster MSNBC in March 2016 during his successful campaign.

Most inmates foreign nationals

There are 13 privately run prisons with just over 22,000 inmates in the US. That is about 11 percent of the federal prison population. Most of those serving in private prisons are foreign nationals, primarily Mexicans for immigration violations. This is a decrease from 40,000 prisoners in 2014. The Bureau of Prisons began contracts with private companies in 1997, during a time of prison overcrowding.

There have been complaints about the conditions of private prisons, especially from immigration and human rights groups. An inspector general audit from August 2016 said prisons owned by private companies saw property damage, injuries and the death of a corrections officer.

Prison stocks jump

The 13 federal prisons run by private companies are run by three companies: CoreCivic (previously known as Corrections Corporation of America), the GEO Group, and the Management and Training Corporation. Thursday's announcement raised stock prices for two of the listed companies. CoreCivic increased 3.2 percent and GEO Group stock jumped 1 percent.

This is not the first time private prison companies' stock prices increased in recent months. The day after Trump's election victory, CoreCivic stock boosted 48.1 percent and GEO Group stock climbed 20.8 percent.

kbd/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

 

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