Articles Posted in Business of Prisons

In 2002, the Bureau of Prisons, in response to an opinion by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, changed its halfway house policy, limiting placements to the final 10% of a prisoner’s sentence. As discussed here, this was a dramatic shift from the agency’s historic practices, which placed certain nonviolent offenders serving short sentences directly into halfway houses and made use of these prison facilities on the back-end of sentences to effectuate successful community re-integration. Following years of litigation, the Second Chance Act served to end the Bureau’s unlawful policy change, and, during the Obama administration, the Bureau began to make broader use of pre-release options, that is, both halfway houses and home confinement. (See here p. 38).

Over the last two years, there has been a growing body of anecdotal evidence that the Bureau has renewed efforts to restrict pre-release placements. Today, Justin George at The Marshal Project has published an excellent piece detailing the tensions between the President’s claimed interest in prison reform and the Attorney General’s interest in more severe penalties for criminal offenders:

Under the Obama administration, the number of federal prisoners in halfway houses and other transitional programs boomed. The federal government required the privately-run residences to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment, and the Department of Justice also increased access to ankle monitors so more prisoners could finish sentences in their own homes.

Over at, Cristina Costantini and Jorge Rivas offer a scathing critique of the Bureau of Prisons’ housing and management of non-U.S. citizens, which has largely been handed over to private prison corporations headed by individuals with ties to the BOP and the Department of Justice.

A Fusion investigation found that without a single vote in Congress, officials across three administrations: created a new classification of federal prisons only for immigrants; decided that private companies would run the facilities; and filled them by changing immigration enforcement practices.[…]  Most of the roughly 23,000 immigrants held each night in CAR prisons have committed immigration infractions — crimes that a decade ago would have resulted in little more than a bus trip back home. And now, some of the very same officials who oversaw agencies that created and fueled the system have gone on to work for the private prison companies that benefited most.

The low-security facilities are often squalid, rife with abuse, and use solitary confinement excessively, according to advocates.

Last August, the FCC announced new rules aimed at reducing the cost of long-distance calls for prisoners. As Sam Gustin writes for Time, the rules went into effect this week:

The new rate caps, which were passed by the agency last fall under the leadership of acting FCC Chair Mignon Clyburn, impose a limit of 21 cents per minute for debit or pre-paid calls and 25 cents per minute for collect calls. At those levels, the cost of a 15-minute call would be reduced by as much 80% to $3.15.

The article explores both sides of the policy debate:

“This is a huge victory for justice for ordinary people at an agency that is usually more attuned to private interests,” says Cheryl A. Leanza, policy director at the United Church of Christ, which has long advocated prison phone reform. “Increasing the connections between families and inmates helps all of us. Strong family connections improve the likelihood that when inmates are released, they will not become repeat offenders, and that makes our society safer. We are very grateful to Commissioner Clyburn.” […]

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So, the federal government has shutdown. What does that mean for federal prisoners? On Monday, the Department of Justice announced its contingency plan:

Bureau of Prisons: All staff at the Federal prisons, including Public Health Service Officers necessary to provide medical care of inmates, are considered excepted since they have direct daily inmate custody responsibilities. Employees are also needed to continue inmate custody responsibilities over some 38,700 inmates in contract facilities and process all new designations to federal prisons from the Courts. Regional and headquarters support will be maintained only to the extent necessary to support excepted operations. BOP’s Buildings and Facilities, Prison Industries and Commissary accounts have multi-year authority and should have adequate carry over funding to meet expenses during a lapse in appropriations.

What does this mean? First, while the Regional Offices and Central Office reportedly have skeleton staffs, federal correctional institutions are at (or near) full operating strength. However, even though prison personnel are expected to show for work (and will not be paid for days they don’t work), their pay will likely be delayed, perhaps for the duration of the shutdown. Said differently, BOP personnel, as Executive Branch employees, are working for IOUs.

As the Danbury (CT) New Times recently reported:

Beginning in August, the Federal Bureau of Prisons will start transferring the first of about 1,150 women incarcerated at the low-security Pembroke Road facility to other institutions.[…] The change will not affect the Danbury camp, located near the prison, which houses 210 low-security female inmates, nor the 1,150 staff members who work there.[…]

[FCI spokesman Matthew] Marske said the inmates will be “evaluated on a case-by-case basis” for transfer to other institutions, including a new women’s prison scheduled to open in Alabama later this year. Twenty-eight of the 116 facilities operated by the Bureau of Prisons across the country house female inmates, but only seven, including Danbury, are all women, and about 7 percent of the approximately 219,000 inmates are female.

As the immigration reform debate heats up on Capitol Hill, Business Insider has this interesting article regarding how private prison corporations stand to be “negatively impacted by any move to fix the country’s broken immigration system.”

Perhaps no one has a bigger interest in maintaining the status quo than private prisons, a billion dollar industry built largely on contracts with federal agencies, including Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Over the past decade, revenues for the industry giants — Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group — have skyrocketed, thanks in large part to a federal program introduced under President George W. Bush in 2005 dubbed Operation Streamline, which brought federal criminal charges against people who cross the border illegally.[…]

I have written previously about the battle that occurred on Capitol Hill over the purchase of Illinois’s shuttered Thomson prison (see here, hereand here). Yesterday’s Rockford Register Star includes a statement from Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) concerning Thomson’s expected opening:

Now that the acquisition of Thomson prison is complete, the Department of Justice has begun preparing for its activation and Director Samuels assured us that process is moving forward. When President Obama releases his budget in the next few weeks, it should include funding for prison activation. Over the next few months, I will be working with Congresswoman Bustos to ensure that opening Thomson prison – and bringing jobs and economic activity to Northwest Illinois communities – remains a priority.

Representative Cheri Bustos added that she was “pleased to hear today from Director Samuels that continued progress is being made toward the opening of Thomson prison. Thomson prison represents an economic shot in the arm to our region, and I look forward to working with Sen. Durbin over the coming months to make sure this job-creating facility continues to be on track for opening.”

Today’s New York Times includes a fairly damning article about Community First Services, a nonprofit group awarded a $29M contract to take over operation (from GEO Group) of a federal halfway house (a.k.a., Residential Reentry Center) in Brooklyn.  The article begins:

[…]Community First promoted its extensive experience doing work for government agencies, including New York City’s Department of Juvenile Justice and the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Community First hailed the vision of its founder, Jack A. Brown III, whom it portrayed as a veteran of gulf war combat with deep expertise in air-defense artillery. And the group declared that, as its name suggested, it had consulted closely with leading community organizations about setting up the federal halfway house in Brooklyn.

As reported by Denver Westword, which cites a story by The Prison Legal News, GEO Group Senior Vice President Thomas Wierdsma “has been accused by his daughter-in-law of intimidation and harassment in a Boulder domestic dispute — including threatening to initiate a federal inquiry into her legal status by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).” Think Progress and The Huffington Post report that in testimony related to the domestic case, a clip of which is available on-line (and below), Wierdsma said the following:


ATTORNEY: You would agree it would be wrong to give false testimony against somebody, correct?
WIERDSMA: Um [long pause]. Yes.
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