Last week, President Joe Biden made headlines after he ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to end its use of private prisons. This move gained a lot of media attention. It represents a clear — and controversial — line in the sand. Most of the attention it received is positive. Letting companies profit off of locking people up should make anyone cringe.
But the attention Biden’s order is getting doesn’t help you understand what the order means if you have a loved one in prison. So let’s ask: What does the Biden order ending private prison use mean for you?
What will President Biden’s order ending the use of private prisons do?
With his order, President Biden told the DOJ to end its use of prisons run by private companies. To do so, the DOJ won’t renew any contracts it has with private companies for those facilities. This move puts federal prisons on the same path they had when former President Barack Obama was in office.
The U.S. is home to approximately 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. And racial minorities make up a larger part of that percentage than they should. The order reflects President Biden’s broader view that the U.S. needs to change “its whole approach” on the issue of racial equality. “We must change now,” President Biden said. “I know it’s going to take time, but I know we can do it.”
What does the Biden order ending private prison use mean for you?
For now, it’s hard to say. Ending the use of private prisons is a good thing. But, as President Biden said, we need more. “This is a first step to stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration.”
For the 14,000 incarcerated people in private facilities, it won’t mean release. But it will mean a move to another facility. But those 14,000 people represent less than 10 percent of the more than 150,000 total federal people in prison.
For the other 135,000+ incarcerated people, though, Biden’s decision to end private prison use won’t have much of an impact. Future prison reform must focus on the remaining 90+ percent of federal prisoners.
What prison reform measures might Biden consider next?
Folks across the country praised Biden for the order ending private prison use by the DOJ. But they also want to know what comes next. “Ending the use of private prisons is only the beginning,” U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) tweeted. “We must affirmatively work to remove all financial incentives in our criminal legal system.”
Many people also want President Biden to end the use of private detention centers by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The use of private facilities grew under former President Obama. And then it exploded under former President Donald Trump. As of now, ICE holds more than 80 percent of detained immigrants in for-profit detention centers, according to a recent ACLU report.