Written by: Karina Jones
On January 26, President Joe Biden signed an executive order instructing the
Department of Justice to no longer renew its contracts with private prisons. Many opinions on this order have been shared since its signing. Some see the order as an efficient first step, others are calling for increased action as soon as possible.
Activists have been calling for an end to all private prisons for years. Many in this country are already discontent with the justice system due to the mass incarceration of black and brown people, and they feel that private individuals profiting from this imprisonment is rubbing salt on a wound. Obama had policies similar to Biden’s action, however Trump reversed his initiative in 2017. On top of the disdain for the idea of profiting off of prisoners, many take issue with private prisons because they are known to be a more dangerous environment than state or federal institutions, according to a report filed in 2016 by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General.
Many people who advocate for justice system reform see this as a great first step to making America’s prison system more humane. They are pointing out that Biden has already promised to do more to address issues related to the justice system, and that the administration is still in its early days of finalizing decisions and signing orders.
Others, however, have expressed many disappointments with this order, one of the main issues being that the order failed to address private institutions under contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In 2020, ACLU released a report indicating that about 81% of people in ICE custody are held in private facilities. Many are claiming that the action is more symbolic than actually impactful, as the private prisons under contract with the DOJ represent only a small population of inmates held in private prisons across the country. As of 2017, about 121,718 prisoners were being held in private facilities. The number of inmates currently in private prisons that will be affected by this order amounts to around 14,122, meaning that only about 11.6% of privately held prisoners will be eventually released. Additionally, the order does not require any fast-paced shut downs of these prisons, they simply will not have their contracts renewed once they expire. States are still free to hold contracts with private prisons, another issue people are taking with the order.
After the widespread frustration of Americans under the Trump administration, many people are passionate about the importance of demanding more from our country’s leaders. The discourse over Biden’s new order is a display of activists continuing to put this principle to use under the new administration.
To learn about more actions Biden has taken in his first few days in office: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/26/biden-to-announce-racial-equity-plan-and-sign-executive-actions.html