California to continue contracting private prisons

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While the U.S. Department of Justice has announced it will begin phasing out its contracts with private prisons, California will continue contracting private prisons to house state-level inmates.

More than 9,000 California state inmates are housed in private prisons, with the bulk of those imprisoned in Arizona and Mississippi. In addition to the two out-of-state prisons, California contracts with eight in-state prisons of varying sizes.

The state continues to use private prisons in order to bring down its overall prison population in compliance with a court order, according to Joe Orlando, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which is in charge of California’s 180,000 inmates.

The state has been less forceful about backing away from private prisons because of its issues with overcrowding, according to Barry Krisberg, a visiting fellow for the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues at UC Berkeley.

“We’re hoping over the next few years to get our prison population where we’re able to have those out-of-state inmates in our California prisons,” Orlando said, adding that California has no specific timeline for reducing the state’s contracts with private prisons.

The DOJ released a memo mid-August that instructed officials to reduce the number of contracts with private prisons. The memo cited the difference in services, safety and cost between public and private prisons.

The Corrections Corporation of America owns the two out-of-state prisons used by California. In a statement, CCA Director of Public Affairs Jonathan Burns said that the company disputed the DOJ’s criticisms of private prisons, noting that the DOJ announcement only relates to Federal Bureau of Prisons correctional facilities — only 7 percent of the CCA’s business.

“Private prisons made a lot of claims that they would be better than public prisons, and none of those claims have proven to be true,” Krisberg said, adding that prisoners in public and private prisons are viewed differently under the law.

The CDCR hopes to eliminate its overcrowding problem in part by no longer taking as many nonserious criminals who reoffend. If they do reoffend, they would then enter county systems, Orlando said.

Private prisons have begun focusing on county jails, according to Krisberg.

The University of California sold off its investments in private prisons in late 2015 after prompting from Black Student Unions across the UC system. The Afrikan Black Coalition, or ABC, on campus was instrumental in pushing that change forward.

“ABC believes that it is abhorrent that private prisons are allowed to operate in California,” ABC Political Director Yoel Haile said in an email. “It is morally corrupt for corporations to exist whose sole source of profit is the caging of human beings en masse.”

Contact Anna Sturla at [email protected].