As part of his promise to advance racial equity, President Joe Biden has instructed the Department of Justice not to renew private prison contracts.
The policy change was part of a fresh set of four additional executive orders the president signed on Tuesday to eliminate alleged institutional discrimination within federal agencies.
“No one should be profiteering off of our criminal justice system,” President Biden tweeted on Tuesday evening. “That’s why today, I ordered the Department of Justice to end the use of private prisons by the federal government.”
No one should be profiteering off of our criminal justice system. That’s why today, I ordered the Department of Justice to end the use of private prisons by the federal government.
— President Biden (@POTUS) January 26, 2021
According to The New York Times, the order reverts “to a policy first adopted in the Obama administration, when Mr. Biden was vice president, and which Mr. Trump reversed.”
Before signing the executive action, Biden said he believes “we’re in a battle for the soul of this nation,” adding, “and the simple truth is, our soul will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to persist.”
“I firmly believe the nation is ready to change, but government has to change as well.”
The order says that there are “a disproportionate number of people of color” currently incarcerated in the United States. It claims “privately operated criminal detention facilities consistently underperform Federal facilities with respect to correctional services, programs, and resources” that help prepare inmates to reenter society.
“There is broad consensus that our current system of mass incarceration imposes significant costs and hardships on our society and communities and does not make us safer,” the order reads. “To decrease incarceration levels, we must reduce profit-based incentives to incarcerate by phasing out the federal government’s reliance on privately operated criminal detention facilities.”
The Associated Press reports:
The order to end the reliance on privately-run prisons directs the attorney general not to renew Justice Department contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities. The move will effectively revert the Justice Department to the same posture it held at the end of the Obama administration.
“This is a first step to stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration,” Biden said.
The more than 14,000 federal inmates housed at privately-managed facilities represent a fraction of the nearly 152,000 federal inmates currently incarcerated.
The federal Bureau of Prisons had already opted not to renew some private prison contracts in recent months as the number of inmates dwindled and thousands were released to home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden is reinstating the DOJ ban on private prisons in federal corrections facilities today, reversing a Trump order. Just like the initial Obama-era ban, this does not bar DHS use of private prisons in immigration detention, which is frankly much more widespread.
— David Dayen (@ddayen) January 26, 2021
White House domestic policy advisor Susan Rice said this was “just the beginning.” She confirmed that the order does not apply to private federal immigration prisons under contract with other agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Rice reportedly said the order is “silent on what may or may not transpire with ICE facilities.”
Biden’s campaign website indicated he would “end for-profit centers” that house unlawfully present immigrants if elected.
“The order signed today is an important first step toward acknowledging the harm that has been caused and taking actions to repair it, but President Biden has an obligation to do more, especially given his history and promises,” said David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project.