The United States has more people living in prisons than any other country.
We've been locking people away with such regularity that we actually started to run out of space. That's why about 10 years ago, the government began working with private contractors to open up private or "for profit" prisons for housing excess of inmates — a practice that has soared into a $70 billion industry.
But that's about to change: On Aug. 18, 2016, Sally Yates announced the Department of Justice will phase out the federal use of private prisons.
As you might be able to imagine, when you add the words "privately owned" to a prison, the effects aren't great. What was once a correctional system has turned into a profit-engine whose fuel is prisoners.
"Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period," said Deputy Attorney General Yates in her memo.
"But time has shown thatthey compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities. They simply do not provide the same level ofcorrectional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and asnoted in a recent report by the Department's Office of Inspector General, they do not maintainthe same level of safety and security."
This isn't the only positive change we've seen in the prison system lately either.
There's also the fact that the vast majority of people we lock up have committed drug offenses, and in 2010, more than half of the drug arrests made were for marijuana — a drug that's now legal in many states. As we decriminalize marijuana, prison population numbers are likely to drop even lower — yet another reason to close private prisons.
While these prisons won't be closing overnight, DOJ officials have been ordered to end or "substantially reduce" their contracts with them.
There are still many problems to fix within our justice system, including (and especially) the rulings and laws that caused these high prison population problems and necessitated the use of private prisons in the first place.
But this is a big step in the right direction.