Get Rid of Private Prisons, But Not Like This!

Image credit: Max Goldberg, CC-BY 2.0 (source)

In his first week in office, President Biden issued a number of executive orders – including one to end the use of private prisons. Private, for-profit prisons are some of the most hideous places in a criminal justice system already filled with degrading and dehumanizing institutions. It was at a private prison for undocumented immigrants in Georgia where 57 women were forced to have unnecessary gynecological procedures – including forced hysterectomies. And private prison corporations are often at the forefront of demanding harsher policing and sentencing laws – after all private prisons stand to benefit from an increased prison population.

On the surface, Biden’s order seems to be a good thing – but a closer look reveals that it will change little with private prisons. Biden’s order doesn’t actually end private prisons – it merely prevents the federal government from renewing contracts with private prison corporations. But private prison contracts are years long – meaning that many of these prisons could exist for many years more, with all the horrors that go on inside of them. And Biden’s executive order does nothing to address private prisons that are run to detain undocumented immigrants – even though 80 percent of undocumented immigrants are held in private prisons.

And what about the damage already done by private prisons? After all, private prisons have existed since the 1980s, under both Democratic and Republican presidents – in fact, private prisons reached their peak number of inmates in 2012 under Obama. What about all the lives already ruined and scarred from these appalling institutions?

Biden’s order is a small, timid step to eventually end some abuses in the private prison system. It’s a small and completely inadequate action to confront the behemoth of private prisons and the prison system more generally – a system that Biden himself helped build and oversee when he was a Senator and Vice President.