What Impact Does Joe Biden’s Executive Order on Prisons have on Louisiana?


Barb Wire Prison
by Kate Ter Haar

On January 26th this year, President Joe Biden signed the “Executive Order on Reforming Our Incarceration System to Eliminate the Use of Privately Operated Criminal Detention Facilities.”

According to the Executive Order: “More than two million people are currently incarcerated in the United States, including a disproportionate number of people of color. There is broad consensus that our current system of mass incarceration imposes significant costs and hardships on our society and communities and does not make us safer.  To decrease incarceration levels, we must reduce profit-based incentives to incarcerate by phasing out the Federal Government’s reliance on privately operated criminal detention facilities.”

There’s been a lot of controversy about for-profit prisons over the years. While the Executive Order touches on a couple of them, including that they’re not as safe, nor as effective at rehabilitation, as public prisons, the biggest issue is not touched on in the document in any detail. The biggest issue is that for-profit prisons only profit by having inmates, and the more the merrier.

While this might seem obvious, not everyone has grasped the full implication. A case that best exemplifies the problems with this is the “Kids for Cash” scandal of Judge Mark Ciavarella, who was, literally, paid a kickback for each child he sent to a private juvenile detention center. And where there’s one judge, it seems likely others are still getting away with doing the same thing. It pays to put people in jail. It costs as much as $81,000 a year to house an inmate in a California prison, and it’s mostly paid for with our tax dollars.

The Executive Order further states, “Contracts with Privately Operated Criminal Detention Facilities: The Attorney General shall not renew Department of Justice contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities, as consistent with applicable law.” It’s important to note that the order doesn’t end private prisons. It doesn’t even immediately end federal private prisons. What it does is simply not renew any contracts. This, ultimately, will phase out privately-owned for-profit federal prisons, or that is the intention.

The effort to do so began during the Obama administration, but the Trump administration reversed the position and took additional bidding from private prison companies. The Biden administration is determined to take up where the Obama administration left off as part of its criminal justice reform agenda. The current Executive Order is likely to be only the first step.

Unfortunately, it has no direct effect on Louisiana. Louisiana currently has only two private facilities, the Allen Correctional Center in Kinder, and the Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield. Both are state facilities.

So while this may be the start of something greater, and it is causing private prison stocks to go down, it still doesn’t affect Louisiana directly. While Louisiana has a federal prison in Pollock, Louisiana, it is not a private facility.

The United States has a higher incarceration rate than most first world nations with Louisiana’s per capita incarceration being well above the national average. In fact, Louisiana ranks regularly at the top.  Governor John Bel Edwards hopes to alter that situation prior to leaving office.

Prison reform is also one of the Biden presidency’s goals. There are plans within the Congress to address judicial reforms through legislation. Executive orders have not addressed many problems related to prisons including massive incarceration due to drugs, an unequal system of justice that has led to unequal numbers of young black males in prison. Nor does it address mass incarceration as a whole. Instead, it merely redefines where a small number of the prison population, approximately 8.1 percent, end up serving time.

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