DOJ’s closure of private prisons could yield more local AEC work on prisons

Posted by Evan Halperin on September 8, 2016

US Capitol Building

Last month, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it would end the use of private prisons. According to the 2013 Bureau of Justice statistics, 19.1 percent of all federal inmates were housed in private prisons, whereas 6.8 percent of state and local prisoners were housed privately. Despite the disparity in the figures above, the total number of inmates in private state prisons is more than double that at the federal level (92,402 compared to 41,230). While the percentage of state inmates in private prisons is relatively small, might this shift in DOJ policy lead to significant changes in the way that prisoners are housed locally and how those prisons are built?

For decades, state prisons have been run utilizing the guidelines and best practices set forth by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), a sub agency of the DOJ. This new signal from the BOP and DOJ may result in changes at the local agency level regarding how prisons are managed and whether they are run by private organizations. It’s important to understand that the decision made by the DOJ is in no way binding or meant to define how state and local prisons are managed. However, DOJ guidelines often influence local practices and this decision could impact future contracts given to private companies.

Last year, Deltek wrote more on the topic of whether it’s worth going private. One reason state and local agencies utilize contracts with private companies like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the ability to recoup money for new facilities or have the CCA build the correction center themselves.

Now, state agencies are faced with a choice: follow the DOJ’s decision or continue to use private companies to manage facilities. Regardless of which option states go with, construction and architecture firms will still be called upon to plan and renovate or build facilities. However, companies may have more opportunities with state and local governments, which are required to issue competitive solicitations for projects. Deltek has seen the number of construction, design, engineering and architecture projects related to prisons go up each year since 2013. Should states move away from the private model, the construction of more facilities will be necessary in order to reduce the overcrowding that is common within privately run prisons.

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