News Release

Nation's Criminal Defense Bar Opposes Private Prisons; Urges Sweeping Reforms in the Absence of a Ban

Washington, DC (Aug. 28, 2017) – At its 2017 annual meeting on July 29, 2017, in San Francisco, the Board of Directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) adopted a statement and resolution opposing prison privatization and urging various critical reforms to the extent incarcerated individuals in the United States continue to be housed in privately-operated prisons and jails. The issue was studied in great depth by NACDL's Corrections Committee, which developed and presented the statement and resolution adopted by NACDL's Board of Directors.

"NACDL's position is clear – the nation's criminal defense bar opposes for-profit incarceration, or private prisons, for numerous, compelling reasons, as provided in the board-adopted statement and resolution," said NACDL President Rick Jones. "Attorney General Jeff Sessions' reversal of the progress made on the federal level under the previous administration to do away with prison privatization is profoundly disappointing. NACDL strongly urges government at all levels throughout the United States to abandon for-profit incarceration. Human confinement should never be a commercial venture. The already existing overrepresentation of people of color in our prison system is even more dramatic in the private prison setting. To the extent that prison privatization is nonetheless permitted, critical reforms, as outlined by NACDL, must be implemented."

As of 2015, some eight percent (or 126,000) of America's over 1.5 million state and federal prisoners were being held in privatized prisons. Studies have concluded that, as compared to government-operated facilities, these privately-operated prisons are less safe, transparent, and accountable than are government-operated facilities. Indeed, private prison corporations are not even subject to basic federal and state freedom of information requests.

These facilities often provide inadequate medical care and impede the due process of justice for incarcerated individuals. NACDL is also concerned that the federal government has contracted with private entities to house immigration detainees, which may lead to illegal and unconstitutional treatment of those individuals as well.

NACDL is concerned that the profit incentive introduced by the corporate operation of these facilities can result in lower employee wages, higher staff turnover rates, a reduction in staff and training, fewer rehabilitation programs (such as education, job training, and counseling services – which have been proven to reduce the risks of recidivism), decreased medical and psychological services, and an increased risk of violence. Indeed, the private prison industry spends millions of dollars each year lobbying governments to enact laws that increase the nation's prison population, and often uses former public prison officials to engage in these lobbying efforts. 

Accordingly, NACDL, consistent with its long-standing efforts to achieve a more just and humane criminal justice system, adopted this statement and resolution opposing prison privatization. At the same time, NACDL also urges certain critical reforms to the extent that prison privatization is to continue to be permitted:

  • All government contracts with private providers must require the private prison, at a minimum, to meet all government regulations and requirements for the care, treatment, and protections of inmates and to be fully transparent and to comply with any and all reporting requirements authorized by law;
  • Private prisons must be subject to the same disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or state equivalents;
  • There must be complete transparency and accountability regarding the care and maintenance of prison facilities;
  • All governments contracting with private prisons must establish independent agencies to regularly monitor and report completely, publicly, and accurately on the conditions in all contracted facilities within their jurisdictions; and
  • Policies must be established to prevent former public corrections officials from lobbying for any private prison association or company for a period of two years from government employment.

 The full text of the statement and resolution is available here.

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Ivan J. Dominguez, NACDL Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or 

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.