The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which is the component of the Department of Justice (Department) responsible for incarcerating all federal defendants sentenced to prison, was operating at 20 percent over its rated capacity as of December 2015. To help alleviate overcrowding and respond to congressional mandates, in 1997 the BOP had begun contracting with privately operated institutions (often referred to as “contract prisons”), at first on a smaller scale and later more extensively, to confine federal inmates who are primarily low security, criminal alien adult males with 90 months or less remaining to serve on their sentences.

As of December 2015, contract prisons housed roughly 22,660 of these federal inmates, or about 12 percent of the BOP’s total inmate population. These contract prisons were operated by three private corporations: Corrections Corporation of America; GEO Group, Inc.; and Management and Training Corporation.1 The BOP’s annual expenditures on contract prisons increased from approximately $562 million in fiscal year (FY) 2011 to $639 million in FY 2014. In recent years, disturbances in several federal contract prisons resulted in extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a Correctional Officer.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) initiated this review to examine how the BOP monitors these facilities. We also assessed whether contractor performance meets certain inmate safety and security requirements and analyzed how contract prisons and similar BOP institutions compare with regard to inmate safety and security data. We found that, in most key areas, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions and that the BOP needs to improve how it monitors contract prisons in several areas. Throughout this report, we note several important corrective actions the BOP has taken, in response to findings and recommendations in our April 2015 audit of the Reeves County contract prison, to improve its monitoring of contract prisons, including in the areas of health and correctional services.

The BOP’s administration, monitoring, and oversight of contract prisons is conducted through three branches at BOP headquarters and on site. According to the BOP, at each contract prison, two BOP onsite monitors and a BOP Contracting Officer, in cooperation with other BOP subject matter experts, oversee each contractor’s compliance with 29 vital functions within 8 operational areas, including correctional programs, correctional services, and health services. The BOP monitors contractor performance through various methods and tools that include monitoring checklists, monitoring logs, written evaluations, performance meetings, and regular audits.

Results in Brief

We found that in a majority of the categories we examined, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions. We analyzed data from the 14 contract prisons that were operational during the period of our review and from a select group of 14 BOP institutions with comparable inmate populations to evaluate how the contract prisons performed relative to the selected BOP institutions. Our analysis included data from FYs 2011 through 2014 in eight key categories: (1) contraband, (2) reports of incidents, (3) lockdowns, (4) inmate discipline, (5) telephone monitoring, (6) selected grievances, (7) urinalysis drug testing, and (8) sexual misconduct.3 With the exception of fewer incidents of positive drug tests and sexual misconduct, the contract prisons had more incidents per capita than the BOP institutions in all of the other categories of data we examined. For example, the contract prisons confiscated eight times as many contraband cell phones annually on average as the BOP institutions. Contract prisons also had higher rates of assaults, both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff. We note that we were unable to evaluate all of the factors that contributed to the underlying data, including the effect of inmate demographics and facility locations, as the BOP noted in response to a working draft of this report. However, consistent with our recommendation, we believe that the BOP needs to examine the reasons behind our findings more thoroughly and identify corrective actions, if necessary.

The three contract prisons we visited were all cited by the BOP for one or more safety and security deficiencies, including administrative infractions such as improper storage of use-of-force video footage, as well as more serious or systemic deficiencies such as failure to initiate discipline in over 50 percent of incidents reviewed by onsite monitors over a 6-month period. The contractors corrected the safety and security deficiencies that the BOP had identified. As a result, the BOP determined that each prison was sufficiently compliant with the safety and security aspects of its contract to continue with the contract during the period covered by our review. However, we concluded that the BOP still must improve its oversight of contract prisons to ensure that federal inmates’ rights and needs are not placed at risk when they are housed in contract prisons.

Our site visits also revealed that two of the three contract prisons we visited were improperly housing new inmates in Special Housing Units (SHU), which are normally used for disciplinary or administrative segregation, until beds became available in general population housing. These new inmates had not engaged in any of the behaviors cited in American Correctional Association standards and BOP policies that would justify being placed in such administrative or disciplinary segregation. When the OIG discovered this practice during the course of our fieldwork, we brought it to the attention of the BOP Director, who immediately directed that these inmates be removed from the SHUs and returned to the general population. The BOP Director also mandated that the contracts for all contract prisons be modified to prohibit SHU placement for inmates unless there is a policybased reason to house them there. Since that time, the BOP informed us that the practice of housing new inmates in the SHU is no longer occurring in the contract prisons and that the BOP has not identified any further non-compliance to date regarding this issue.

Finally, we found that the BOP needs to improve the way it monitors contract prisons. We focused our analysis on the BOP’s Large Secure Adult Contract Oversight Checklist (checklist) because, as described by BOP operating procedures, it is an important element of the BOP’s Quality Assurance Plan, as well as a mechanism BOP onsite monitors use to document contract compliance on a daily basis. We believe onsite monitors are best positioned to provide the BOP’s quickest and most direct responses to contract compliance issues as they arise. We found that the checklist does not address certain important BOP policy and contract requirements in the areas of health and correctional services. As a result, the BOP cannot as effectively ensure that contract prisons comply with contract requirements and BOP policies in these areas and that inmates in contract prisons receive appropriate health and correctional services.

For health services, the checklist does not include observation steps to verify that inmates receive certain basic medical services. For example, the observation steps do not include checks on whether inmates received initial examinations, immunizations, and tuberculosis tests, as BOP policy requires. We also found that monitoring of healthcare for contract compliance lacks coordination from BOP staff responsible for health services oversight.

For correctional services, the checklist does not include observation steps to ensure searches of certain areas of the prison, such as inmate housing units or recreation, work, and medical areas, or for validating actual Correctional Officer staffing levels and the daily Correctional Officer duty rosters.


We make four recommendations to the BOP to improve the monitoring and oversight of its contract prisons, including enhancing its oversight checklist, which we believe should assist the BOP in ensuring that the significant number of inmates it houses in these facilities receive appropriate health and correctional services and that the contract prisons are safe and secure places to house federal inmates.

Read the entire report (PDF) here.