A Private Prison Order Does Little For Mass Incarceration

President Joe Biden
William Anderson
February 5, 2021

People celebrated as President Biden signed an executive order that many are calling a “ban” on private prisons. But … it’s not! In order to understand what’s wrong with this, you have to understand some fundamental things about the system.

President Biden essentially reissued an Obama-era order on private prisons and expanded it a bit. 

First, it doesn’t touch immigrant detention or post-incarceration “services,” which is where private prisons are heavily focused. But there’s much more to be understood here.

In the U.S., ALL incarceration is for profit. This is a core facet of what we know as the “prison industrial complex.” From contractual prison services in jails to corporations exploiting prison labor, capital has everything to do with all of it. But there’s another big issue.

Mass incarceration is primarily driven by the prisons that are NOT privately owned. Of the millions incarcerated in the U.S., Biden’s order will affect fewer than 30,000 people, and will free no one from this system that’s an extension of slavery. There are things that could actually help, though.

If Joe Biden wants to take on the injustice of this system, he could abolish the death penalty, end pre-trial detention, or repeal his 1994 Crime Bill for starters. Racism is built into this system and it needs to be dismantled, not amended in superficial ways.

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