January 27, 2021
Joe Biden Orders Justice Department To Not Renew Private Prison Contracts, Vows To Address Racial Inequality

On Monday, President Joe Biden signed four executive orders intended to further his administration's racial justice agenda, as reported by CNBC. His order requires the Justice Department to end its relationships with private prisons, the government to acknowledge its role in discriminatory housing policies, the sovereignty of Tribal governments to be respected and xenophobia against Asian Americans to be addressed after a rise during the coronavirus pandemic.

"I firmly believe the nation is ready to change, but government has to change as well," Biden said in comments before signing the orders.

Biden's presidency follows a year of protests aimed at institutional racism in the United States. He pledged throughout his presidential campaign to combat racial injustice.

The decision to not renew contracts with privately operated prisons will return the Justice Department's stance on the issue to the same it held at the end of Barack Obama's administration. Biden praised the executive order as the first step in ending corporate profit off of incarceration. Of the 152,000 federal inmates currently incarcerated, 14,000 of those are in private facilities, as reported by the Associated Press.

"Today's executive order is a solution in search of a problem. Limiting the federal government's options to deal with potential overcrowding challenges in the future could result in worsening and unsafe conditions for the men and women in federal custody," Pablo Paez, spokesman for GEO Group -- one of the largest owners of private prisons -- said in a statement.

Shares in GEO Group Inc. and its competitor CoreCivic Inc. fell 7.8 percent and 5.9 percent respectively in the aftermath of the executive order, as reported by Bloomberg.

While David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, praised Biden's decision, he urged the president to go further and specifically end government relationships with privately operated immigration detention centers.

"The order signed today is an important first step toward acknowledging the harm that has been caused and taking actions to repair it, but President Biden has an obligation to do more, especially given his history and promises."

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus pandemic in the State Dining Room of the White House on January 26, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images | Doug Mills

The executive order on housing discrimination will also call for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to review actions taken by the Trump administration that may have had an undermining effect on fair housing and fair housing laws. In 2020, Trump's HUD rolled back a rule requiring communities receiving funding to document patterns of racial bias.

The Health and Human Services Department and Biden's COVID health equity task force will also issue standards that ensure sensitivity toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The Department of Justice will also work with those communities to address hate crimes and harassment.