Don’t Get Too Excited About President Biden’s Ban On Private Prisons

Corporate slavery is slowly dying in the United States. President Biden recently signed an executive order designed to eliminate the for-profit prison system supported by Uncle Sam.

In an Instagram message posted on Thursday evening, Biden wrote: “No one should be profiteering off of our criminal justice system. That’s why today, I ordered the Department of Justice to end the use of private prisons by the federal government.” The move is all part of the new administration’s commitment to racial justice. But while the implications of the order are noble, it will do very little to destroy the private prison complex.

For-profit prisons are run by corporations looking to cash in on the misfortune of others. The goal of this business model, just like any other enterprise, is to turn a profit for their shareholders. These prisons, which came about in the 1980s, sell their services to federal and state governments. But to keep making money, they have to keep the prisons running at capacity. Therefore, the longer prisoners are locked up, the better it is for their bottom line. Private prisons house more than 8% of the U.S. prison population. The Federal Bureau of Prisons holds the highest number of inmates through these contractors, experiencing an increase by around 77% over the past decade. Roughly 30,000 federal inmates are held in private facilities.

So at face value, it’s promising that Biden has ordered the Justice Department to stop using private prisons. However, legal experts argue that this order’s overall impact will be more symbolic than anything resembling actual prison reform. Because not much will change. “When it comes to private prisons, the impact of this order is going to be slight to none,” John Pfaff, a professor of law at the Fordham University School of Law, told NBC News. “This is not about shrinking the footprint of the federal prison system, it’s just about transferring people to public facilities. Biden is telling an executive agency under his control what kind of contracts they can enter.”

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Furthermore, the order doesn’t alter the way states use private prisons in any way. Although the federal government will have to phase these contracts out over the next few years, states still get to decide where to house their criminals. And that’s a problem for the so-called Land of The Free.

“Since 2000, the number of people in private prisons has increased 39.3%, compared to an overall rise in the prison population of 7.8%,” according to a report from the Sentencing Project. “In six states the private prison population has more than doubled during this time period: Arizona (479%), Indiana (310%), Ohio (277%), Florida (199%), Tennessee (117%), and Georgia (110%).”

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Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Not even the federal government has to stop using them right away. They just can’t sign any new contracts. “The Attorney General shall not renew Department of Justice contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities, as consistent with applicable law,” Biden’s order reads.

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Biden said the revision of the government’s private prison policy was just the beginning of his master plan for criminal justice reform. During his campaign, the president noted that he plans to decriminalize marijuana at the national level, not to mention clear the criminal records of some pot offenders. “Nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana,” Biden told voters last year in New Hampshire.

Interestingly, the private prison system has fought tooth and nail against the legalization of marijuana throughout the years. By their own admission, eliminating pot crimes only serves to hurt their bottom line. They claim Biden’s order has consequences for the working class citizen, including losing hundreds of jobs in areas where facilities are located and negative economic impact.

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But drug reform advocates say the order against for-profit prisons is just a start, and we have a long way to go. They’d like to see Biden address other prison reforms, like the mass incarceration problem. The United States has the highest prison population in the world. It presently houses more than 2 million people in private and public prisons. Drug offenses make up 46%.

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