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Biden's Executive Order on Private Prisons

By Hubert Plummer posted 01-31-2021 06:17 PM


I wrote about prison reform recently.[i]  I discussed the affliction that are private prisons.  The whole concept is just wrong.  It creates a perverse incentive.   

As noted by the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office of the Department of Justice. “One of the most perverse incentives in a privately run prison system is that the more prisoners a company houses, the more it gets paid. This leads to a conflict of interest on the part of privately run prisons where they, in theory, are incentivized to not rehabilitate prisoners. If private prisons worked to reduce the number of repeat offenders, they would be in effect reducing the supply of profit-producing inmates.”[ii], citing a Findlaw article.[iii]

The article goes on to note that private prisons will seek to save costs by reducing services to the incarcerated persons.  Poor food, poor conditions, and poor health care are the results of these practices.  The average cost to house someone in a state-run facility is $37 whereas the cost in a private prison is $44.

As I mentioned in my earlier posting, 28 states have or utilize private prisons. The Federal government also uses them.

On January 26, 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing the Attorney General and Department of Justice to not renew any contracts with private prisons.[iv]  This is a fine first step, but it really doesn’t do much.

There are currently approximately 152,000 people in federal prisons.  Of those only 14,000 are held in private prison facilities. [v]  The order does not remove people from the private prisons, it just won’t renew the contracts.  Many of these contracts are for 10-year terms.

So, while the intent is good and sets a positive tone for the future, it really isn’t the blockbuster it seems in prison reform.  There are over 2.3 million people in prisons in the United States,[vi] so 14,000 is hardly going to have an impact.  This Order also does not impact the immigration detention system which holds a half a million people in a mix of private and public facilities.

I hope that President Biden and Congress can work together for more reforms of our broken justice system.








The author[s] is solely responsible for this blog submission.  It does not represent the position of the New York State Bar Association or its Committee.