On Tuesday, January 26, 2021, the Biden Administration announced that the Department of Justice will not renew any existing contracts for private prison operators in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). There are currently 12 privately-run prisons in the BOP, several of which had already been shut down or are pending transfer to government management. Nonetheless, the order will affect more than 12,000 federal prisoners now residing in abysmal conditions in for-profit prisons. The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) applauds the Administration’s move to end the BOP’s relationship with private prison companies, a small but meaningful step toward addressing the systemic abuse of millions of U.S. prisoners.
President Biden noted, “This is a first step to stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration.” We hope this is an accurate statement of the Administration’s intentions. The same profit motive that creates inhumane conditions in correctional facilities is at work in the privatization of psychiatric residential treatment facilities (PRTFs) for youth. Now a multi-million dollar business dominated by venture capital firms, private operators of PRTFs sacrifice quality and effective treatment as cost-saving measures, at the expense of the vulnerable youth they are paid to serve. The children and youth placed in these facilities are among the most vulnerable, disproportionately children of color, children in foster care, and children with disabilities.
“We commend the Biden Administration for taking this much-needed action to better protect prisoners from atrocious conditions in for-profit prisons,” said Curt Decker, NDRN Executive Director. “While this is welcome news, we know more must be done to further protect all institutionalized people from abuse and neglect” continued Decker.
The order did not address profiteering by the same private prison companies that run immigration detention centers, nor by the local regional jails contracted to house immigrant detainees. NDRN calls on the Administration to also end Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contracts with immigration detention facility operators, and to drastically reduce the number of people held in DHS detention facilities. Further, there are far more privately-operated prisons in state systems that will not be affected by the Justice Department’s actions, and we encourage the Department to take steps to de-incentivize these privatized state prisons.