Attorney General Jeff Sessions Just Reversed a Major Obama Policy

February 23rd 2017

Alex Mierjeski

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has withdrawn an Obama-era Justice Department memo that had criticized the government's use of private prisons, and called for them to be phased out. The move was reported by the Associated Press Thursday afternoon.

As a Department of Justice spokesperson told the Huffington Post, the new memo, issued Thursday, instructed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to "return to its previous approach to the use of private prisons," which would allow the BOP more leeway in the way it manages its inmates. 

In the new memo, Sessions said that an August 2016 memo about private prisons, issued by then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, had "changed longstanding policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau's ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system," the AP reported.

The move was a boost for private prison companies.

The two largest private prison operators, CoreCivc (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America) and Geo Group, saw their stock values jump shortly after the news broke.

Here's CoreCivic's stock:

CCA stock price

And Geo Group's:

GEO Group stock


Private prisons have come under increased scrutiny in recent years, with critics citing higher rates of inmate mistreatment, poorly run facilities funded by taxpayer money, and profit models that incentivize incarceration rather than rehabilitation. 

In 2015, the federal BOP's contracts with private prison companies managed around more than 22,000 inmates, according to a 2016 Office of the Inspector General report. The August memo from Yates suggested that the Justice Department decline to renew them, and ultimately terminate its reliance with private companies. According to the report, private prisons "incurred more safety and security incidents per capita" than comparable BOP-run facilities.