As soon as it happened, the tweets, posts, and messages began: “President Biden is shutting down private prisons!” For some of us, we read past the headline. For others of us, we recall the day President Obama issued the same Executive Order — which was subsequently repealed by Trump.
While Obama’s order was to not renew some contracts in the federal system, none of those contracts actually ended during his administration. When Trump repealed the order, some of the contracts were renewed… But now we have a restoration of the order that the contracts should be left to expire. See what is happening here?
More importantly, the order applies to less than 10% of the facilities within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and less than 10% of the prisons that are holding people for felony convictions. It only amounts to about 14,000 people. It does not touch the many facilities that form the heart of America’s immigrant detention Gulag; around 80% of people in ICE custody are held in private facilities. It does not apply to the private prisons that hold people pre-trial, nor the ones that hold people in state custody. And of course, it does not apply to public prisons, which make up 91% of US prisons and jails.
Most importantly, the order does not get at what is actually wrong with prisons: incarceration.
Read more from our friend, author, and professor Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, whose Op-ed is the most comprehensive and accurate writing on the Executive Order.