criminal justice

Should the federal government stop using private prisons?

Yes

Yes

Michael Bennet

U.S. senator, Colorado

Bennet believes the federal government should stop using private prisons, he told The Post.

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Michael Bennet
Bennet

Joe Biden

Former vice president

“Biden will end the federal government’s use of private prisons, building off an Obama-Biden administration policy rescinded by the Trump administration,” a campaign spokesperson told The Post. “And, he will make clear that the federal government should not use private facilities for any detention, including detention of undocumented immigrants. Biden will also make eliminating private prisons and all other methods of profiteering off of incarceration – including diversion programs, commercial bail and electronic monitoring – a requirement for his new state and local prevention grant program. Finally, Biden will support the passage of legislation to crack down on the practice of private companies charging incarcerated individuals and their families outrageously high fees to make calls.”

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Joe Biden
Biden

Pete Buttigieg

Former mayor, South Bend, Ind.

Buttigieg believes the federal government should stop using private prisons, a campaign spokesperson told The Post.

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Pete Buttigieg
Buttigieg

John Delaney

Former U.S. representative, Maryland

Delaney believes the federal government should stop using private prisons, he told The Post.

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John Delaney
Delaney

Tulsi Gabbard

U.S. representative, Hawaii

Mar. 29: “We must stand up against for-profit, private prisons and a criminal justice system that favors the rich and powerful and punishes the poor, locking up people who smoke marijuana and ignoring corps like Purdue Pharma responsible for thousands of opioid-related deaths. ”

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Tulsi Gabbard
Gabbard

Amy Klobuchar

U.S. senator, Minnesota

Klobuchar believes the federal government should stop using private prisons, she told The Post.

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Amy Klobuchar
Klobuchar

Deval Patrick

Former governor, Massachusetts

Patrick believes the federal government should stop using private prisons, a campaign spokesperson told The Post.

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Deval Patrick
Patrick

Bernie Sanders

U.S. senator, Vermont

“Yes. When [Sanders] is president, we will ban private prisons including at the state and local level and end for-profit greed in our criminal justice system, including ending for-profit detention centers and cash bail,” a campaign spokesperson told The Post. “[Sanders] will make prison and jail communications, re-entry, diversion and treatment programs fee-free. We’ll incentivize states and localities to end police departments’ reliance on fines and fees and withhold funding to states that continue the profiteering of private prisons.”

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Bernie Sanders
Sanders

Tom Steyer

Billionaire activist

Steyer believes the federal government should stop using private prisons, he told The Post.

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Tom Steyer
Steyer

Elizabeth Warren

U.S. senator, Massachusetts

“Yes. There should be no place in America for profiting off putting more people behind bars or in detention,” Warren told The Post. “That’s why I will shut down the use of federal private detention facilities by ending all contracts that the Bureau of Prisons, ICE and the U.S. Marshals Service have with private detention providers. I will extend these bans to states and localities by conditioning their receipt of federal public safety funding on their use of public facilities.”

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Elizabeth Warren
Warren

Andrew Yang

Tech entrepreneur

“Yes. No one should be profiting off of incarceration, as it creates incentives against rehabilitation,” a Yang campaign spokesperson told The Post.

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Andrew Yang
Yang

Cory Booker (Dropped out)

U.S. senator, New Jersey

Booker is no longer running for president. “The decrease in the federal prison population presents the Bureau of Prisons with a unique opportunity to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, its use of private prisons,” Booker wrote to Attorney General William P. Barr in November 2019. “We strongly urge you to return to the previous policy that would phase out for-profit private prisons and assure Congress that the Department of Justice is a committed partner in criminal justice reform.”

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Cory Booker
Booker

Marianne Williamson (Dropped out)

Author

Williamson is no longer running for president. Williamson believes the federal government should stop using private prisons, she told The Post.

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Marianne Williamson
Williamson

Unclear/No response

Unclear/No response

Mike Bloomberg

Former New York mayor

Bloomberg did not answer this question by publication.

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Michael Bloomberg
Bloomberg

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Background The federal government began contracting with privately run facilities in 1997 to house a growing prison population. Democrats take issue with companies profiting from incarceration, which they argue incentivizes imprisonment and cost cutting at the facilities. Private prisons experience more safety and security issues compared to government-run ones, according to a 2016 Justice Department inspector general’s report.

Ten percent of federal inmates were housed at facilities managed by private companies as of Jan. 10. Larger shares of some state prison populations were housed in private facilities as of 2017, according to the Sentencing Project, and some candidates have said that as president they would also pressure states to abandon private facilities.

How candidate positions were compiled

The Washington Post sent a detailed questionnaire to every Democratic presidential campaign asking whether it supports various changes to U.S. criminal justice policy. Candidates with similar stances were organized into groups using a combination of those answers, legislative records, action taken in an executive role, and other public comments, such as policy discussion on campaign websites, social media posts, interviews, town hall meetings and other news reports and surveys. See something we missed? Let us know.

This page will update as we learn more about the candidates’ plans. We also will note if candidates change their position on an issue. At initial publication, this page included major candidates who had announced a run for president. If a candidate dropped out after a question was published here, their stance is included under the "Show former candidates" option. If they dropped out before a question was first published, the Post did not reach out to get their stance.

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Candidate illustrations by Ben Kirchner.