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Biden phases out federal use of private prisons as part of racial equity actions

Joe Biden
Posted at 1:51 PM, Jan 27, 2021

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed four executive actions pertaining to racial equity, including phasing out the use of private prisons at the federal level.

"We have never fully lived up to the founding principles of this nation, to state the obvious, that all people are created equal and have a right to be treated equally throughout their lives," Biden said just before signing the actions. "And it's time to act now, not only because it’s the right thing to do. Because if we do, we'll all be better off."

Biden signed an order directing the attorney general to not renew contracts the Department of Justice has with privately-operated criminal detention facilities.

"This is the first step to stop corporations from profiting off of incarcerated -- incarceration that is less humane and less safe, as the studies show. And it is just the beginning, in my view, to my administration's plan to address systemic problems in our criminal justice system," Biden said.

Though Biden cited in his remarks the nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in May, his orders do not tackle police accountability or reform. Nor does the order to close private prisons under DOJ's purview have any effect on private detention facilities run by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

On the campaign trail, Biden vowed to end federal government use of all private facilities for any detention, including ICE facilities.

The Obama administration took a similar action in 2016 in its final months in office to move towards the end of federal contract prisons, but the Trump administration quickly reversed the move.

"Yes, we need criminal justice reform but that isn’t nearly enough. We need to open the promise of America to every American. And that means we need to make the issue of racial equity not just an issue for any one department of government, it has to be the business of the whole of government," Biden said Tuesday.

Biden also signed a memorandum to address a rise in discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over the past year.

Former President Donald Trump often referred to the novel coronavirus with a term that stigmatized Asian Americans, and an official said that the administration intended to examine if the government was exacerbating that discrimination with "offensive and dangerous" language.

"The aim here is to acknowledge that and to try to redress it," a senior administration official said in a briefing on the orders.

In addition, Biden signed two other actions aimed at strengthening access to housing and tribal sovereignty.

One was a memorandum directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to reinstate an Obama-era anti-housing discrimination rule that Trump had rolled back, and to more broadly examine whether a fair housing law was being fully implemented.

The second action "reinvigorates the commitment of all federal agencies to engage in regular, robust, and meaningful consultation with Tribal governments," the administration said.