Friday, October 03, 2008

DOJ BJS: Private prisons dominated recent prison construction growth but provide fewer services

Thanks to Doc Berman for pointing out the newly released national Census of State and Federal Corrections Facilities from the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the Department of Justice, which provides a number of interesting insights into 21st century prison expansion and practices. The census basically covers the first half of the decade, comparing data between June 30, 2000, and December 30, 2005. Let's run through some highlights. (All quotes are from the report - pdf)

For starters, governments aren't building prisons much any more, but corporations are. "Private correctional facilities (up 151) accounted for nearly all of the increase in the number of adult correctional facilities between June 30, 2000, and December 30, 2005. Most of the growth in private correctional facilities during this period was in facilities under contract to the Federal Bureau of Prisons."

As a result, private facilities have expanded their market share over a very short period of time, DOJ reports, mostly thanks to federal contracts. "From 2000 to 2005, the number of private facilities increased from 16% (264) to 23% (415) of all institutions. About two-thirds of all private facilities were under contract to state authorities and a third were under contract to the Federal Bureau of Prisons."

That said, private facilities tend to be smaller, and while they account for a large percentage of facilities they don't house the same proportion of prisoners. "Inmates housed in private facilities increased from 91,184 in 2000 to 105,451 in 2005. In both years, inmates housed in private facilities made up about 7% of the nation’s average daily prisoner population."

During the first half of this decade, most prison growth came in very small and very large facilities. "Between 2000 and 2005, facilities housing fewer than 500 inmates as an average daily population increased by 86. Facilities housing 500 to 999 inmates was relatively unchanged between 2000 (305) and 2005 (304). Facilities housing 1,000 to 2,499 inmates increased by 57 and the number of facilities housing 2,500 inmates or more rose by 11."

States are substituting minimum and maximum security facilities for medium security ones. "The number of minimum (up 155) and maximum (up 40) security facilities increased between 2000 and 2005. The number of medium-security facilities declined (down 42) during this period."

Confirming my sense that the Bush Administration has been less aggressive than its predecessors in pursuing prison abuse litigation, the census found that, "The number of facilities under court order or consent decree to limit the size of their inmate population declined from 145 in 2000 to 44 in 2005. Facilities under court order or consent decree for specific conditions alsodeclined, from 320 to 218."

Unfortunately, staffing of prisons hasn't kept pace with the growth in inmate numbers. "The overall inmate population in adult correctional facilities operating under state or federal authority increased by 10% between the 2000 and 2005 CSFCF. The number of correctional staff rose by 3% during this period."

Finally, according to these data, private prisons appear to do a poorer job at providing meaningful programming for prisoners than state run facilities. "About 9 in 10 public correctional facilities and about 6 in 10 private correctional facilities offered academic and vocational training programs in 2005."

See the full report (pdf).

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