WASHINGTON – For the private prison industry, locking up humans is a major money-making enterprise that generates billions of dollars, but now the Biden administration is working to end it.
For decades, the federal government has relied on private partners to help lessen the load of housing Americans doing time. It's a practice that's been controversial from the start.
As one of his first actions in office, President Joe Biden used his executive pen to direct the Department of Justice not to renew its contracts with the facilities.
"This is a first step to stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration that is less humane and less safe as the studies show," Biden said before signing the executive order.
A 2016 inspector general's report found private prisons had more safety and security incidents than state and federal penal institutions over a four-year period.
"I think people feel like there's something distinctly morally repugnant about paying cash to put people in cages," John Pfaff, professor at Fordham Law School, explained during an interview about the controversy surrounding private prisons.
However, industry insiders and even some criminal justice experts say Biden's move is nothing more than a feel-good nod to activists.
"So, if President Biden wanted to take on massive incarceration in a meaningful way he would address the overwhelming number of prisoners who are in state-run facilities and not the nine percent that are in contractor facilities," Alexandra Wilkes with Day 1 Alliance told CBN News.
Of the 152,000 federal inmates incarcerated today, only about 14,000 are housed at privately managed facilities and Wilkes says just 300 of those are U.S. citizens. The rest are criminal aliens who will be deported after completing their sentences.
Wilkes argues in ending their partnership, the federal government is throwing out an important tool.
"When Vice President Harris was attorney general of California, the state was under a court order mandate to address the unconstitutional overcrowding that was occurring and so the industry was brought in as a tool and as a partner to help with that," she says.
Pfaff says if used correctly, the private industry could make positive changes.
In an article published in the Arizona Law Journal, he writes if contracts were written differently, "ones that did not pay per prisoner per diem rates but instead based funding on goals such as reduced recidivism risks—then the private prisons would focus on things other than just warehousing people."
In other words, let the business model work for society by tying profits to results that benefit inmates rather than paying for the number of prisoners.
As it currently stands, private facilities stand to benefit from locking up more people, which some argue encourages repeat offenders.
And many critics can't forget the shocking 2012 deal pitched by Corrections Corporation of America, now known as CoreCivic. The company would purchase prisons in 48 states if those states would guarantee a 90-percent occupancy rate.
CBN News's requests to learn when the first DOJ contracts will end, thus potentially beginning to shutter private prisons were not answered by the White House or Bureau of Prisons, but the process will likely take years and can be reversed by the next administration's executive pen unless Congress acts.