PHILIPSBURG – The fate of a local correctional facility is now in jeopardy after a recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice, which plans to stop using private prisons.
Private prisons “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” stated Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in a memo Thursday.
Effective immediately, the Justice Department will seek to reduce and “ultimately end” the use of privately operated prisons. Contracts with private prison operators are not being renewed or they are being scaled back dramatically, according to a report from CNN.
The announcement Thursday only impacts the 195,000 inmates in federal prisons, a small portion of America’s 2.2 million incarcerated adult prisoners. There’s also no impact on private immigration detention facilities, since those fall under the Department of Homeland Security, not the DOJ.
Still, according to CNN, advocates for prison reform believe this could be the beginning of the end for private prisons. Wall Street appears to agree. The stocks of two of the largest private prison operators fell dramatically after The Washington Post reported the news.
Corrections Corporation of America lost 40 percent of its value Thursday. GEO Group also slumped about 40 percent.
The Moshannon Valley Correctional Center, located at 555 Geo Dr., Philipsburg, is a GEO Group facility. Its capacity is 1,820 and it has accreditations from the American Correctional Association (ACA, 2008 and 2011) and Joint Commission (also known as JCAHO, 2008 and 2011), according to the MVCC Web site.
In 2006, the Federal Bureau of Prisons first awarded the MVCC as “the preferred facility for the operation and management [of] low-security, non-violent criminal aliens who have 90 months or less remaining on their sentence.”
In December of 2014, U.S. Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-5) issued the following statement upon news that the Federal Bureau of Prisons had awarded Moshannon Valley Correctional Center as the Bureau of Prisons’ preferred facility for the Northeastern United States.
“This announcement is tremendous news for our community and the Commonwealth,” stated Thompson.
“The Moshannon Valley Correctional Facility has been an economic engine for our region, providing jobs for area residents, new tax revenue to support local services, including investments in our schools, and a host of other opportunities that have benefited all area residents.
“I am proud of the work we have done, including efforts at all levels of government and within the community, to protect local jobs and ensure the Moshannon Valley facility remains in operation for years to come.”
At that time, the Bureau of Prisons’ contract with the MVCC was set to expire in 2016. However, it was renewed then for a period of five years, with one-year renewal options for the following five years, according to the same 2014 press release from Thompson’s office.
In 2014, the MVCC was employing approximately 260 area residents and providing approximately $600,000 each year in local property taxes, $445,000 of which directly benefits local schools.
The Moshannon Valley Correctional Center is a 243,111-square foot facility. It was originally built in 2006 and was later expanded in two phases completed in 2010. Built in a campus-style arrangement, the facility’s housing and support buildings form a secure compound, according to the MVCC Web site.
The center’s Web site further states that “The GEO Group provides secure care, custody and control for non-violent criminal aliens on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Offenders are provided with educational programming that includes GED classes, Adult Basic Education (ABE), and English as a Second Language (ESL), substance abuse counseling, life skills, employment assistance and vocational opportunities.”
GEO, a Florida-based company specializing in corrections, assumed operations of the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center during its acquisition of Cornell Companies in August of 2010.
The GEO Group issued this statement on its Web site on the Department of Justice’s announcement regarding contracted prisons for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
“GEO has had a long-standing, private-public partnership with the BOP that dates back to the 1990’s. At the federal level, GEO’s facilities have a proven track record of providing cost-effective, high-quality services for those entrusted to GEO’s care.
“While the company was disappointed by [the] DOJ announcement, the impact of this decision on GEO is not imminent. As acknowledged in the announcement, the BOP will continue, on a case-by-case basis, to determine whether to extend contracts at the end of their contract period.
“Notwithstanding [the] announcement, GEO will continue to work with the BOP, as well as all of our government partners, in order to ensure safe and secure operations at all of our facilities.
“Additionally, GEO will continue its efforts to provide industry-leading offender rehabilitation programs and reentry services with the objective of reducing recidivism and ensuring individuals successfully transition back into local communities.
“GEO provides high-quality, diversified services across all segments of the correctional and community reentry services spectrum in the United States as well as internationally.”
Clearfield County Commissioner John A. Sobel, chair, said that the commissioners are disappointed in the federal government’s decision to either “cut back or cease” using private prisons.
One reason given for the decision was related to safety. “But I am not aware of any significant issues at the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center,” he said.
Sobel continued, saying: “I am glad there is still five years remaining on the contract. We do plan to lobby with our federal officials to change this policy shift.
“Obviously, if the MVCC ultimately closes or has to cut back, it would not be good with it employing so many in the Moshannon Valley and eastern Clearfield County.”