Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday directed the U.S. Department of Justice to continue to use privately-run prisons, a reversal of an Obama-era directive to phase the facilities out.
Sessions issued the policy-changing memo Thursday, saying the decision to permit the federal Bureau of Prisons to keep using private facilities will allow them the flexibility to meet future needs.
Last August, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates issued a directive that the bureau was to start a complete phase out of private facilities based on a report suggesting they were less safe than government run facilities, and they were more expensive to run.
"The memorandum changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau's ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system," Sessions wrote. "Therefore, I direct the Bureau to return to its previous approach."
Sessions said he is not instructing the bureau to start using more private facilities, but rather looking to allow them to make the decision they see best fit.
Most inmates in the United States are housed at state- and county-run prisons, but of the federal governments prisons, only 12 -- holding just over 21,000 inmates -- are run by private companies.
A report by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General found private prisons had more safety and security incidents than those run by the government, had higher incidents of assaults and had eight times as many cell phones smuggled in for inmates.
Private prison companies vigorously denied the report's findings, and were glad to see it rejected by Sessions and the Trump administration.
The reversal, said Jonathan Burns, a spokesperson for CoreCivic, which runs federal prisons, "validates our position that the department's previous direction was not reflective of the high quality services we have provided to the federal government for decades."