Justice Department reverses Obama guidance on decreasing private prisons

Attorney Common Jeff Sessions has rescinded an Obama-era memo aimed at reducing and eventually ending the Justice Department's use of private prisons. The memo, penned in August 2016 by former Deputy Lawyer Basic Sally Yates -- who was fired by President...

Justice Department reverses Obama guidance on decreasing private prisons

Attorney Common Jeff Sessions has rescinded an Obama-era memo aimed at reducing and eventually ending the Justice Department's use of private prisons.

The memo, penned in August 2016 by former Deputy Lawyer Basic Sally Yates -- who was fired by President Donald Trump final month right after she refused to defend his immigration order -- suggested that private correctional facilities "examine poorly" to federal facilities, and instructed officials to start "the process of lowering, and eventually ending, our use of privately operated prisons."

Citing declining inmate numbers and an Inspector General's report showing private institutions experience much more safety incidents per capita than government-run prisons, Yates directed the Bureau of Prisons to decline to renew private contracts, or "substantially minimize" their scope.

In his letter to the Bureau of Prisons, on the other hand, Sessions claimed Yates' guidance "changed lengthy-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau's capacity to meet the future requirements of the federal correctional system," and directed officials to "return to its preceding approach."

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, just 21,366, or about 12 percent, of the nation's 189,000-plus federal inmates are housed in privately managed facilities. (Of course, the vast majority of incarcerated persons in the U.S. are held in state facilities, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.) The Justice Division told ABC News the Bureau of Prisons currently has 12 private prison contracts.

ABC News' Jack Date and Mike Levine contributed to this report.

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