Biden’s executive orders are receiving much attention from the president-friendly media. But what are the real effect of them?
One such presidential order is to phase out the Department of Justice’s contracts with privately managed prisons.
Biden’s private prison executive order fails to scale back incarceration. The federal Bureau of Prisons — which makes up slightly more than 8 percent of the current U.S. penal population — but just 9 percent of the people incarcerated under the Bureau of Prisons are held in a private prison.
Biden has excluded the Department of Homeland Security, and therefore privately run immigration detention centers, from his order. In contrast to the small percentage of private prisons within the Bureau of Prisons, the majority of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities are currently under private contracts. Yet there is no indication that the Biden administration will extend the executive order to the Department of Homeland Security. There is so far no indication that the Biden administration will extend the executive order to the Department of Homeland Security, as the order is careful to only refer to “criminal” detention facilities in contrast to ICE’s “civil” detention facilities.
Rather than taking a step toward dismantling mass incarceration, Biden’s private prison executive order shores up the legitimacy of the state to imprison people. He could issue a moratorium on U.S. Marshals Service and ICE contracts with local jails and on the United States Department of Agriculture loan program, which finances jail expansion in the name of “community development,” and which together have been driving rural jail expansions. He could halt federal executions and commute the sentence of every person on federal death row.
Biden could institute broad-based de-carceration by ending pre-trial federal detention and giving clemency to most people incarcerated in federal prisons. He could end federal policing initiatives that target sex workers. And he could champion the repeal of the 1994 Crime Bill, the law that helped build Biden's political career.
The problem of private prisons is not that they are private but that they are prisons. This executive order is simply an act of moving chairs around the deck of the Titanic. When a private prison contract runs out, imprisoned people will be transferred to a different federal prison where they will still be subject to inadequate medical care, violence and premature death.
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