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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman January 27, 2021

Biden issued order to not renew contracts with private prisons

President Joe Biden issued an order for the Justice Department not to renew contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities for federal inmates.

"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 Jan. 26 order.

Biden announced the prison order as part of his racial equity agenda. A disproportionate number of people of color are among the more than two million people incarcerated in the U.S., Biden's order said.

Currently there are about 14,095 federal inmates in privately managed facilities out of 151,646 federal inmates, or about 9% of the population. 

Biden's promise continues an initiative by the Obama administration in 2016 to phase out the use of some private prisons due to safety concerns and a declining population, a move that the Trump administration rescinded.

"Given that the facilities will be phased out over time (when the contracts expire) there should be little problem in having sufficient space to house the population, assuming that the current numbers stabilize or continue to decline," said Marc Mauer, senior advisor to The Sentencing Project, which advocates for reduced incarceration. 

David Fathi, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, praised Biden's order but said it doesn't limit the role of for-profit prison health care companies or end the use of private prison companies for immigration detention. We are tracking Biden's separate promise to end privately operated detention facilities for migrants seeking asylum.

Day 1 Alliance, a trade association representing private prison companies CoreCivic, The GEO Group, and MTC, sent a statement in response to Biden's order.

"If this announcement were truly about taking on mass incarceration, shouldn't it address the 91% of federally incarcerated men and women housed in government-run correctional facilities?"

The GEO Group said in a statement that due to the recent decline in federal prison populations, and in part due to the COVID pandemic, the Bureau of Prisons had already announced steps over the past four months to not renew expiring contracts with private sector operators. 

Biden's order is a first step toward his promise to end the federal government's use of private prisons and detention centers. We rate this promise In the Works.


 

Our Sources

President Joe Biden, Order on prisons, Jan. 26, 2021

Federal Bureau of Prisons, Population statistics, Accessed Jan. 26, 2021

ACLU, Statement on Biden's prison order, Jan. 26, 2021

Sally Yates, deputy attorney general, Memo, Aug. 18, 2016

Office of the Inspector General Department of Justice, Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Monitoring of Contract Prisons, 2016

AP, Obama administration to phase out some private prison use, Aug. 18, 2016

Mother Jones, Biden Will End the Justice Department's Use of Private Prisons, Jan. 26, 2021

Day 1 Alliance, trade associated founded by CoreCivic, The GEO Group, and MTC, Statement about Biden's order, Jan. 26, 2021

Email interview, Marc Mauer, The Sentencing Project senior advisor, Jan. 26, 2021

Email interview, David C. Fathi, Director, ACLU National Prison Project, Jan. 26, 2021

Email interview, Pablo E. Paez, The GEO Group, Inc. spokesperson, Jan. 26, 2021

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