The U.S. Department of Justice has decided to phase out its use of private prisons, concluding they are not as safe and effective as federal facilities.
In a memo released Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote that private prisons do not "provide the same level of correctional services, programs and resources," do not provide substantial cost savings and "do not maintain the same level of safety and security."
Yates said the goal is "reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons."
The memo said about 15 percent of federal inmates were in private prisons in 2013.
The U.S. government began to use private prisons in the late 1990s because of an explosion in the prison population that began the previous decade. Since the government's War on Drugs began in the 1980s, the number of Americans imprisoned for drug offenses skyrocketed from 41,000 in 1980 to nearly 500,000 in 2014, according to the Sentencing Project, a Washington nonprofit organization that researches the U.S. criminal justice system.
Yates said the federal prison population has begun to decline for the first time in decades, thanks to efforts to "recalibrate federal sentencing policy." The decline, she wrote, is primarily due to retroactively applying new drug sentencing guidelines, implementing new policies for charging low-level and nonviolent drug offenders, and continuing the Obama administration's clemency program.
The news was not well-received by shareholders of two of the largest private prison companies. As of Thursday afternoon, the stock price of Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group had dropped more than 35 percent from the previous day's close.