Biden directs DOJ to phase out use of private prisons

President BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Did President Biden institute a vaccine mandate for only half the nation's teachers? Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE on Tuesday ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to phase out its use of private prisons.

The executive order, signed alongside three others as part of an effort to address racial inequality, largely returns the department to the policy adopted under the Obama administration.

“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,” Biden wrote in the order.

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The order directs DOJ not to renew any of the contracts with private prisons that house federal inmates, roughly 14,000 out of the 2 million people incarcerated in America.

Criminal justice reform advocates say the move is an important first step in reducing reliance on private prisons, which critics argue have little accountability and whose models are incompatible with efforts to rehabilitate offenders.

But some warn the order will only have a limited impact, particularly given the length of contracts that may have been signed under the Trump administration. 

“That’s just 9 percent of the fed prison population, and many of those contracts are 10 year contracts, and some of them were recently signed,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, director of the justice program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, calling the order an important first step.

The order also appears to be limited to DOJ, allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) specifically, to continue use of private prisons. It would also not apply to any state or local-level decisionmaking, jurisdictions that are responsible for the bulk of the U.S. prison and jail population. 

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“If the administration is serious about removing profit from incarceration, they need to look at DHS and ICE contracts with these firms,” Eisen said.

The Association of Private Treatment and Correctional Organizations, which represents private prisons, did not immediately respond to request for comment from The Hill. 

A similar directive was given under the Obama administration, with then-Deputy Attorney General Sally YatesSally Caroline YatesSally Yates: I never thought that I'd be saying, 'Yeah, go Liz Cheney' ABC lands first one-on-one TV interview with Garland since confirmation Appointing a credible, non-partisan Jan. 6 commission should not be difficult MORE stating that “the goal of the Justice Department is to ensure consistency in safety, security and rehabilitation services by operating its own prison facilities.”