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President Biden moves to 'ultimately end the Justice Department’s use of private prisons'

·Senior Editor
·3 min read

President Biden’s latest executive order moved to end the use of privately-run prisons.

“Today, I’m issuing an executive order that will ultimately end the Justice Department’s use of private prisons, an industry that houses pre-trial detainees and federal prisoners,” Biden said during a press conference on Tuesday.

According to The Sentencing Project, there were over 128,000 people incarcerated in U.S. private prisons in 2016, which accounted for roughly 8.5% of the prison population. In 2017, the private prison industry generated an estimated $3.9 billion in revenue. The U.S. has the most private prisons in the world.

The order directs acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson to decline contract renewals related to privately-operated facilities, “a step we started to take at the end of the Obama administration and was reversed under the previous administration.” (Biden nominated Merrick Garland to be the next U.S. attorney general.)

US President Joe Biden speaks on racial equity before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 26, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Joe Biden speaks on racial equity before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 26, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

‘Private prisons don't save money’

The U.S. prison population has increased by 500% over the last 40 years.

There are currently almost 2.3 million people behind bars, with the prison industry generating upwards of $80 billion a year. Much of that money is made from incarcerated individuals and their families.

The U.S. prison population boomed in the 1990s and continued to increase in the 21st century. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics/Wikipedia)
The U.S. prison population boomed in the 1990s and continued to increase in the 21st century. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics/Wikipedia)

The argument for many in support of for-profit prisons is that they are cost effective, at least in comparison to federal prisons. The average annual cost of incarceration for those federally imprisoned was $36,299.25 in 2017, which comes out to $99.45 per day, a 4.6% increase from 2016, according to the Federal Register.

However, that notion is disputed.

“Private prisons don't save money and they don't run better prisons — instead, they provide worse jobs and worse conditions of confinement,” Amy Fettig, executive director for The Sentencing Project, told Yahoo Finance. “Ending private prison contracts at the federal level is an important step in the right direction and an important signal to the states that the age of private prisons needs to end for good.”

The number of people imprisoned at for-profit facilities has increased by 39.3% since 2000, according to The Sentencing Project, while the overall prison population in that time has increased by just 7.8%. The population of private prisons has more than doubled in six states during that time: Arizona (479%), Indiana (310%), Ohio (277%), Florida (199%), Tennessee (117%), and Georgia (110%).

New Mexico and Montana have the highest shares of for-profit prisons. (Map: The Sentencing Project)
New Mexico and Montana have the highest shares of for-profit prisons. (Map: The Sentencing Project)

Fettig called the executive order “the right move” by the new administration.

“Private companies should never be allowed to profit from human bondage,” she said. “We know that private prison corporations worked to drive mass incarceration because it helped their bottom line at the expense of our communities, especially communities of color.”

The move by Biden is part of his administration’s agenda on racial equity.

“This is the first step to stop corporations from profiting off incarceration that is less humane and less safe as the studies show,” Biden said prior to signing the executive order, “and it is just the beginning of my administration’s plan to address systemic problems in our criminal justice system.”

Adriana is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

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