Progressive Democrats Press Joe Biden to Go Much Further on Private Prisons

Progressive Democrats have urged President Joe Biden to go further in eradicating for-profit incarcerations following his decision to end federal contracts with private prisons.

On Tuesday, Biden signed an executive order directing the Department of Justice (DOJ) not to renew "privately operated criminal detention facilities." Domestic Policy Adviser Susan Rice told a White House press conference the move demonstrates the president's commitment to "reducing mass incarceration while making our communities safer."

While Biden's decision was lauded by fellow Democrats, certain progressive members of Congress believe there is more to be done in addressing prison profiteering.

Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts retweeted a graph from the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), which found less than 9 percent of incarcerated people to be held in private prisons.

"Ending the use of private prisons is only the beginning. We must affirmatively work to remove all financial incentives in our criminal legal system," Pressley tweeted. "No one should profit from incarceration."

A 2020 PPI research report stated private prisons are "not the root" of America's mass incarceration problem, rather a "parasite" on the system.

No one should be profiteering off of our criminal justice system. That’s why today, I ordered the Department of Justice to end the use of private prisons by the federal government.

— President Biden (@POTUS) January 26, 2021

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hailed Biden's executive order as a "great development" and an "important step," but stressed more should be done to "end the for-profit caging of people in the US."

"We must include ending for-profit immigrant detention & examine the use of for-profit services that squeeze families of the incarcerated in public prisons, too," she tweeted.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren praised the executive order, while cautioning: "For-profit immigrant detention facilities have to go too."

Citing figures from a 2019 USA Today investigation on conditions immigrants face in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib tweeted: "The use of private prisons to detain immigrants must end too."

When asked at Tuesday's press conference about the executive order's bearing on prisons detaining immigrants, Rice responded the order applies to DOJ-run prisons and is not "applicable to those run by other agencies." With regards to establishments overseen by ICE, Rice said the executive order is "silent on what may or may not transpire with ICE facilities."

Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment.

Cynthia Garcia, national campaigns manager for community protection at United We Dream, said private prison companies have long "profited off the exploitation, abuse and mass incarceration of Black and brown people" in a statement.

"President Biden's executive order to gradually end these contracts is an important first step in ensuring the safety of our communities, but it is certainly not the end," Garcia said. "Private detention facilities remain the bedrock of detaining Black and brown immigrants in ICE custody and have consistently operated with impunity."

In the fiscal year of 2019, the U.S. under then-president Donald Trump more than doubled its spending for services by the GEO Group, a top player in the for-profit incarceration industry. Most of the $595 million—a generous portion obligated from ICE's budget—went towards funding the detention of immigrants.

Ending the use of private prisons is only the beginning. We must affirmatively work to remove all financial incentives in our criminal legal system.

No one should profit from incarceration.

— Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) January 27, 2021
Louisiana State Penitentiary inmate holds fence
An inmate holds onto a fence during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. Following President Joe Biden's move to end federal use of private prisons, progressive Democrats urged his administration to do more. Mario Tama/Getty Images