Criminal Justice

Biden Orders Justice Department To Phase Out Use of Private Prisons

Biden reportedly will also reinstate restriction on transfers of surplus military gear to police.

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President Joe Biden issued an executive order today to phase out the Justice Department's use of private prisons.

As part of what the White House dubbed "equity day," Biden signed an order directing the Justice Department not to renew contracts with private prisons, which have long been a target of criminal justice reform advocates.

"Mass incarceration imposes significant costs on our society and communities, while private prisons profiteer off of federal prisoners in less safe conditions for prisoners and correctional officers alike," the White House said in a fact sheet, according to Reuters.

Civil liberties and criminal justice groups applauded the order, although it was far from their most significant demands of the new administration, which include ending the federal death penalty and ending solitary confinement.

"Today's executive order validates something we've been saying for years: No one should profit from the human misery that is caused by mass incarceration," David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's national prison project, said in a press release. "Prison privatization increases the potential for mistreatment and abuse of incarcerated people, and this move by the Biden administration will start curtailing this insidious practice."

In the grand scheme of the U.S. criminal justice system, the order will not have a significant impact. State prison systems hold the majority of the roughly 2.3 million incarcerated people in the country. And of the federal prison population, only 15 percent are held in private prisons.

Fathi noted that Biden's order will not touch the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the immigration detention system, nor the private contractors the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) uses for other services, such as medical care. Fathi said that while today's order is a good first step, "President Biden has an obligation to do more, especially given his history and promises."

Nor are private prisons the source of the most pressing problems within the federal prison system. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the BOP was under severe stress due to chronic understaffing, which led to nurses and cooks being pressed into guard duty. There were also persistent problems with corruption, sexual assault, medical neglect, and low staff morale, not to mention the embarrassing death of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein in a Manhattan jail.

Reason reported last year on a string of deaths due to alleged medical neglect at FCI Aliceville, a federal women's prison in Alabama.

The pandemic put all of these problems into even sharper relief, as the federal prison system struggled, and failed, to adequately protect incarcerated people and staff. 

CNN also reported that Biden will sign an executive order reinstating Obama-era limits on the transfer of military equipment to local and state law enforcement. The Pentagon's 1033 program distributes surplus military equipment to police. Most of those items are mundane things like cold-weather gloves and filing cabinets.

Amid national outrage over images of militarized police in Ferguson, Missouri, the Obama administration limited the program in 2015, prohibiting the transfer of such items as camouflage, .50-caliber ammunition, tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and bayonets. Police departments in possession of these items were asked to return them.

President Donald Trump, who portrayed himself as a staunch ally of the police, rescinded the Obama memo, including tighter reporting requirements, in 2017.

A Brown University study published last year found that the Department of Defense's (DOD) 1033 program has transferred at least $1.6 billion worth of equipment to police departments across the country since 9/11, compared to just $27 million before the terrorist attack. That equipment includes mine-resistant, armored-protective vehicles, or MRAPs, which are hulking, armored personnel carriers designed to survive bomb blasts on the roads of Iraq and Afghanistan. Thanks to the 1033 program, 1,114 MRAPs are currently in the possession of American police departments. 

The 1033 program is not the most significant federal source of police militarization, though. The program is dwarfed by Department of Homeland Security anti-terrorism grants to local police, as well as shared revenue from property seizures and forfeitures.

NEXT: Cops Must Destroy Illegal Surveillance Videos From Spa Visited by Robert Kraft

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  1. More union jobs at government prisons, duh.

    1. Indeed.

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    4. Yes but you get the added benefit of less efficiently run facilities at higher cost.

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    5. And yet nothing done about the private industries that are in the federal prisons where the judges, prosecutors and federal defense attorneys have stock in! These private industries pay workers .75 cents and hour! All they are doing is getting rid the private prisons that serve as competition to the private industries in the prisons that the DOJ and Court people BOP have big shots have stock in. Then their base think they are doing something great and liberating.

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  2. “Prison privatization increases the potential for mistreatment and abuse of incarcerated people…”

    Seems like it would decrease the potential for mistreatment, because the private prison operators could be held liable, while government prisons claim qualified immunity.

    1. and if government prisons do get sued, the taxpayer has to pay the settlements, not the prison operators.

    2. I could only fully support private prisons if we managed to allocate prisoners and funding to them based on their recidivism rates. Otherwise, there really is too much potential for abuse since liability often waived.

    3. It doesn’t privat and public prisons are the same rate of problems.

  3. “No more private prisons! From now on, everybody will be in a public prison!”

    Socialism is humane, you see.

  4. I don’t really have a problem with either of these things. I’m very unlibertarian in that I’m highly skeptical of private prisons.

    1. Historically, the “solution” for overcrowded prisons has been to: (1) release prisoners en masse; (2) build more prisons; or (3) execute the prisoners.

      If I was a betting man, I would wager that Biden’s neo-fascist administration will slowly work its way through option one. The released prisoners will find gainful employment as rioters. Then, when the rioters have outlived their usefulness in terrorizing political opponents, they will be re-arrested and result in the federal government building more prisons. Then, when the prisons are full (and, they will be full), option three.

      Fortunately, drug dealers, robbers, burglars, and other miscreants will be treated quite leniently. Option three will be reserved for the seditionists, at which point everyone that today stands opposed to the death penalty will be howling for blood.

    2. I’m very unlibertarian in that I’m highly skeptical of private prisons.

      You and me both. That’s one of those areas where I think you actually do have to remove market forces from the equation, because you really don’t want to foster an industry that profits off of depriving people of their liberty, and when you see how much these private prison operations pour into lobbying for tough-on-crime legislation . . . it’s concerning.

      1. Exactly. A profit motive is a profit motive. I’m very uncomfortable with a private corporation having the power to violate a prisoner for infractions, thus lengthening his sentence and maintaining a high prison population.

        1. I think they could work if we shifted the profit motive from keeping people in prison to preventing them from going back. Competition to lower recidivism would be a good thing and something that is needed in our overly punitive system.

          1. Having worked in a prison I think this is the right idea. Right now our recidivism rate is terrible, but more innovative prisons might be able to think of ways to reduce that. In any event our overly bureaucratic system doesn’t seem to be able to do so.

        2. At first glance I agree it’s a good idea to remove the profit motive when depriving people of liberty, but even gov run prisons have motive to keep their beds full to ensure their funding in perpetuity.

          1. Granted, people who go out and steal, rob, assault, and murder, and vandalize have to be punished, and locked up for a period of time, but the fact that the prisons here in the United States are so dehumanizing that many inmates who end up in these prisons are more ready than ever to commit crimes fails to stop people from doing the kind of stuff that lands them in these prisons in the first place.

            There has to be a way to punish such people that doesn’t result in such a high recidivism rate.

    3. Because they’re not really private, are they? These are government enforced housing monopolies with their residents and funding provided by government.

    4. Same hear to your first statement. Though I’m less skeptical of private vs public; seems to me if we stopped putting non-violent drug dealers in prison then it be less of an issue all around.

      1. What percentage of prisoners are non violent drug offenders?

        1. On the Federal level, 46.4% of inmates are in for drug crimes.

          So, at the Federal level, where only 15% of prison beds are private, it’s should be relatively easy to deal with. You can gradually cut the number of drug offenders held by a third, and that’ll handle the decline in beds just fine.

    5. I agree.

  5. When those contracts expire, where will all the prisoners currently housed there go? Are they going to build more government prisons? Increase over-crowding in existing prisons? Seems like you should reduce the number of prisoners before you reduce the number of prisons.

    1. Are they going to build more government prisons?

      In red states, yes.

      Increase over-crowding in existing prisons?

      In blue states, yes.

      Seems like you should reduce the number of prisoners before you reduce the number of prisons.

      ^ Absolutely this.

      Probably the most intelligent short-term approach would be for the government to eminent-domain private prisons and take over their operation, but that’s probably in no way what will happen.

      1. What I would suggest is that government lease the prison space in private prisons, but staff should be government employees. As you noted earlier we should not privatize the taking of a person’s liberty.
        Some have suggested that recidivism rate could be a market motivator and I would agree. So I suggest:
        – Private companies could build prison and lease space to government. Lobbying for these companies is prohibited.
        – Government staff should be responsible for prisoners, including safety, discipline, nourishment, and healthcare.
        – Private companies responsible for programs to rehabilitate and train prisoners for reintroduction to society. Payment is based on recidivism. Company get paid as long as the person is out, but payment stops if they go back to prison.

        1. Do you get better service at the Post Office or the UPS office?

          1. Maybe UPS feels like better service since they can outsource so much of their shit work to the USPS, like rural delivery.

          2. I have always gotten good service at both.

        2. Private companies could build prison and lease space to government.

          I could see leasing as a short-term solution to getting the existing private players out of the business of actually operating the prisons, but this still creates a market for carceral “real estate development” in need of “tenants.” Prohibitions on lobbying generally don’t work.

          Private companies responsible for programs to rehabilitate and train prisoners for reintroduction to society. Payment is based on recidivism. Company get paid as long as the person is out, but payment stops if they go back to prison.

          This is an idea I could get behind.

    2. Given that all illegal immigrants will be released, there should be plenty of beds to go around.

    3. Since this is all at the Federal level, you can eliminate the need for 15% of current beds (over the time as the contracts expire) by releasing a third of the people in for drug offenses.

      State prisons are the level where 55% of people are in for violent crimes, another 18% for property crimes, 15% for drug offenses, and 12% for public order offenses. But Biden can’t do anything about state prisons by executive order anyway.

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  6. Oh, in just some shit that happened in the snooze…

    WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has concluded that two of the four court orders allowing the FBI to conduct secret national security surveillance on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page were not valid because the government made “material misstatements” in obtaining them, according to a newly declassified judicial order.

    Who should be prosecuted for Treason again?

    1. The disclosure by James Boasberg, the top judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, underscores the extent to which the FBI bungled its handling of a highly sensitive case, a failure that is continuing to have serious policy and political repercussions.

      The order says the department told the court it now believes it did not have probable cause to believe that Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, which was required to obtain the surveillance.

      The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The FBI declined to comment.

      1. “the extent to which the FBI bungled its handling of a highly sensitive case” I don’t really see any bungling here. Looks to me like they accomplished exactly what they set out to do and will face no consequences whatsoever.

        1. Yep. It’s all theater at this point. Some animals being more equal than other animals has been accepted by to many animals at this point.

    2. “Who should be prosecuted for Treason again?”

      Carter Page, of course.

    3. None of them. But those FBI agents should be prosecuted for violating Carter Page’s civil rights and be forced to pay restitution from their personal holdings towards him.

      1. Now that’s funny. Tell me more about elf farts?

    4. The guy whose angry mob tried to overthrow the government.

      Looks like they were right to investigate, huh?

      1. It really was pretty bad, 90 days of rioting, utter havoc in dozens of American cities, the Whitehouse was attacked, downtowns were ravaged, stores were looted, monuments destroyed, federal buildings burned, arson was customary, more than 700 police were injured and spat upon.
        The “mostly peaceful” protesters did billions of dollars in damage, leaving thousands of business owners bankrupt, and at least three-dozen people died.

        I’m glad they’re finally investigating. I imagine that a lot of Democrats will be behind bars.

        1. They always were investigating the street crimes to which you were referring, just like they always do.

          We’re still learning the gory details of the completely unrelated treason to which I’m referring to.

          1. What gory details? The cop who died of a stroke at work a day after he was hit by a fire extinguisher, or the unarmed woman your pals shot through the neck?

            1. Your sympathy for terrorists is undoubtedly extremely selective.

  7. Now that the democrats have begun using the national guard as their private police (at least the politically reliable ones), the cops no longer need the expense of the 1033 stuff.
    (ever try to change the tire on an MRAP?)

  8. There is a really simple solution. Prison choice. Give prisoners vouchers based on good behavior and let them decide which prison to live in. Private prisons will quickly become good places to live.

    1. Great. Then we will have to subsidize the vouchers for certain preferred groups.

  9. How long till the public/private prison projects, featuring Amazon?

    1. Uh, they have had warehouses since they began – – – – – – – – – – – –

  10. re: “No one should profit from the human misery that is caused by mass incarceration”

    Does that include the politicians who pass the laws that drive all the mass incarceration in the first place? Notably including politicians named Biden and Harris?

  11. “Today’s executive order validates something we’ve been saying for years: No one should profit from the human misery that is caused by mass incarceration, except prison guard union officials and the politicians they support,” David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national prison project, said in a press release.

    There, fixed the quote.

  12. Where are they going to put the people who are currently in private prisons?

    Biden seems to specialize in the gesture that the progressive nuts eat up but that aren’t really thought out as to the ramifications. This thing here. He’s done it in energy. Dude’s living in a world with unicorns and magic pixie dust.

    1. You really have to be a multimillionaire nowadays to afford to be progressive. It’s a luxury belief.

      1. Luxury belief. Brilliant. And sadly also true . . .

  13. The Pentagon’s 1033 program distributes surplus military equipment to police. Most of those items are mundane things like cold-weather gloves and filing cabinets.

    Winter gloves and filing cabinets of war have no place on America’s streets.

  14. ending solitary confinement.

    What if the person is in solitary confinement because he keeps trying to kill his cellmates?

    1. Have a social worker quietly explain that she shouldn’t do that.

  15. “OK, the good news is you will be released from this prison…the bad news is you’ll be going to a government-run PMITA prison instead.”

  16. “not to mention the embarrassing murder of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein in a Manhattan jail.” FTFY

  17. Private prisons, with incentives so perverse even libertarians understand why it’s a bad idea. Will they make the leap to other public services? Of course not. Compartmentalization, the key to any rigid, uncompromising ideology.

    They’re not wrong to point out that similar incentives can exist in the public sector. How do you motivate a government bureaucracy to work toward the goal of making itself less necessary and require less funding?

    Mass incarceration has consequences you can’t wish away. Emptying prisons of most prisoners and giving every victim of the state a lifetime pension, that’s only the most obvious thing we’ll have to do. I’m sure libertarians will be right on board. Because as every libertarian says, I will pay a dime extra in taxes if it means millions of people gain real, tangible freedom.

    Oh no, no they don’t. Not ever.

    1. Need to make room for the political purges, huh?

      1. Not all of us have the stomach for kidnapping congressmen and trying and executing them on the spot, however efficient it may sound.

        1. How about shit that didn’t happen for $1000 Alex.

          You can fuck right off with your Reichstag-fire lie, you authoritarian shill.
          Go play Mouth of Sauron for the DNC somewhere more conducive to fomenting. Like Democratic Underground.

          1. You should consume some liberal media. If only to know what the actual facts are. It’s useful to know what the facts are.

        2. No, not all Democrats have the stomach for kidnapping, torture, and murder . . . but that doesn’t stop the party from celebrating those who do.

    2. Mass incarceration has nothing to do with who runs the prisons. Mass incarceration is solely the result of the political and judicial processes that put people into the prisons.

      What are you doing to fix that problem? Oh, yeah. You said we should all vote for Biden and Harris – two of the folks who worked hardest to pass laws that put even more people behind bars.

  18. I for one am delighted that a man responsible for incarcerating millions has finally seen the light. With the exception of his enthusiastic support of taxpayer paid abortions in the 9th month of pregnancy, Joe is a devout Catholic and undoubtedly sees the value of redemption. For all of the nameless victims of his war on crime but also for himself. Wouldn’t want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard. In any case it’s certainly appropriate for Reason and the ACLU to praise his good intentions even as his son snorts coke off of a hookers ass. Because at least he ain’t Trump.

    1. Witness the cultist accuse the Enemy of exactly what the Savior did on his weekends as part of his brand.

      Alpha male behavior when it’s Trump snorting coke off a hooker’s ass, poor family values from the guy with a normie wife and son and decent worldview.

      Maybe morally superior Trump would have gotten around to closing private prisons after he was done deporting and brutalizing all the undesirables who form the core message of his politics.

      1. Don’t know if Trump is morally superior. But he doesn’t have a 40 year history of using the violence of the state to fight federal wars on drugs, the latest definition of crime and whatever foreign country the neocons want to bomb next. And by the way. You are a dishonest asshole Tony so fuck off.

        1. Biden wasn’t my first choice either.

          Though to be honest, if we got my first choice, we’d probably still be stuck with the guy who makes all other corrupt people look like girl scouts.

          1. “”who makes all other corrupt people look like girl scouts.””

            Cuomo wasn’t running.

            1. Let the memory holing commence.

              How wonderful it must be for you. You can fail over and over and over and over and over, and none of it fucking matters, because you just edit out all the failure from your memories. Thank you FOX News. What a service you provide.

      2. from the guy with a normie wife and son and decent worldview.

        That’s one way of looking at it.
        I always forget about the archetypal ‘decent-viewed career grifter & hair-sniffing wannabe godfather patriarch with dementia’ and of course the ‘normie incestuous pedo crackhead son’.

        1. That’s because you consume trash lies from rightwing propaganda sources.

          You don’t want Trump to be better than Biden. You like that he’s an asshole and hurts who you want to hurt. That’s the entire point.

          1. Yeah, that was a rant, not a rebuttal.

            Let’s take a look at the Hoover Biden laptop thing:

            – We have a computer that the Toast of Medellin gave to a repair man and forgot about because meth-huffing losers forget about stuff.
            – We got his signature on the papers.
            – We got his ambulance chaser demanding it back.
            – We got the testimony of a veteran with a vaguely Slavic name whistleblowing it, and I was told during the impeachment that it’s literally treason to doubt whistleblowing veterans with a vaguely Slavic name.
            – We have a hard drive that the FBI says is his.
            – It contains photos of underage girls having sex with Hunter.
            – It has emails with Cunter soliciting bribes.

            That’s only normal in your world Tony.

            1. What’s not normal is what’s been done to your brain by trash rightwing propaganda.

              A half a million people are dead. Do you think that a private citizen’s laptop is relevant to anything going on right now? Really?

      3. from the guy with a normie wife and son and decent worldview

        Lol, “Doctor” Jill and Hunter Biden are “normies”??
        Did Tulpa steal Tony’s sock?

        I guess when you’re a bug-chasing bathhouse aficionado, a coked-up pedophile grifter is normal.

        1. Yeah she’s a teacher and he’s a guy with a famous father and an addiction problem. Sounds about as American as you can get.

          This cannot be said for the lizard people in human suits behaving like Middle Eastern royalty wannabe.

          1. “lizard people in human suits”

            How did I know that Tony would be a David Icke acolyte.

            1. It’s just that their human suits look like they’re as cheap as their owners.

              1. You’re the only one on the planet who fancies that a washed-up meth-head pedophile like Hunter is classier than Ivanka or Barron.

                1. Well dems did elect a washed up crackhead for Mayor of DC.

                2. I don’t think it matters what a president’s children do. Do you?

  19. How about we let everyone that committed a victimless crime out of prison to start? If I was a libertarian publication, that’s what I’d be advocating for. A lot.

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  22. Officials operating private prisons don’t take a constitutional Oath of Office, which includes the 8th Amendment’s legal prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Beyond the legal issue, government employees swear loyalty to uphold the U.S. Constitution – as a condition of retaining authority. Private prison officials swear loyalty to maximize profits, not uphold a prisoner’s constitutional rights.

    Reason readers should be researching unconstitutional practices like “Virginia’s Writ of Innocence” law. If an innocent person in Virginia were imprisoned based on either outright fraud or honest mistakes, that innocent prisoner, maybe imprisoned for decades, has the “burden of proof of innocence”. An innocent person must prove they are innocent instead of the American standard that places the burden of proof on the “accuser” or prosecutor. Essentially that innocent person is victimized a 2nd time by Virginia’s justice system for no crime and no wrongdoing.

    1. “Beyond the legal issue, government employees swear loyalty to uphold the U.S. Constitution – as a condition of retaining authority.”

      Who is going to tell Nancy & Chuckles?

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  24. Remember when Reason used to promote prison privatization?

    1. Remember when marriage was between a man and a woman!

      1. Remember when voting was only done once per person?

  25. When you want to defund the police why have prisons at all?

  26. I worked in a private prison. Stuff got smuggled in, but we in the recovery business figured it was mostly staff.
    As for the excess military stuff, whose idea was that in the first place? Very bad idea. If you give a boy a toy, they are just itching to use it. It costs to keep that equipment up also. So using it would be – oh never mind. Marion OH does not need a tank

    1. Well, actually, Marion does need a tank now. Trump lost.
      His voters are lurking in the bushes everywhere with evil intent.

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