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Biden orders DOJ to end private prison contracts as part of racial equity push

Last updated on January 26, 2021 5:31 pm


Kevin Breuninger Jan 26, 2021

President Joe Biden ordered his Department of Justice on Tuesday to phase out its contracts with private prisons, one of multiple new planks of Biden’s broad-focused racial justice agenda.

Biden signed four additional executive actions after laying out his racial equity plan at the White House. The actions are aimed at combating discriminatory housing practices, reforming the prison system, respecting sovereignty of Tribal governments and fighting xenophobia against Asian Americans, especially in light of the Covid pandemic.

“I ran for president because I believe we’re in a battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden said before signing the actions. “And the simple truth is, our soul will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to persist.”

“I firmly believe the nation is ready to change, but government has to change as well,” he said.

The actions are the latest in a sweeping first-week flex of presidential powers. Here’s what Biden signed Tuesday afternoon, according to a preview provided by senior administration officials:

  • An executive order directing Biden’s attorney general to not renew DOJ contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities;
  • A presidential memorandum directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to examine the effects of the Trump administration’s regulatory actions that “undermined fair housing policies and laws.” Based on that analysis, the memo also directs HUD to take steps to fully implement the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.
  • An executive order pushing federal agencies to regularly and meaningfully engage with Tribal governments;
  • And an executive memorandum directing the Health and Human Services Department and Biden’s Covid health equity task force to consider issuing best practices for advancing “cultural competency” and sensitivity toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as part of its Covid response efforts. The memo also directs the DOJ to partner with those communities to prevent hate crimes and harassment against them.

“For too many American families, systemic racism and inequality in our economy, laws and institutions, still put the American dream far out of reach,” domestic policy advisor Susan Rice said at a press briefing preceding Biden’s speech and signings.

“These are desperate times for so many Americans, and all Americans need urgent federal action to meet this moment,” Rice said.

“Building a more equitable economy is essential if Americans are going to compete and thrive in the 21st century.”

Rice noted in the briefing that Biden’s order to the DOJ does not apply to private-prison contracts with other agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

That order is “silent on what may or may not transpire with ICE facilities,” she said, while stressing that the latest actions are “just the beginning” of the administration’s racial equity push.

Biden put racial justice issues at the center of his winning campaign against former President Donald Trump. Shortly after being sworn into office, Biden signed an executive order that established his administration’s social-justice focus and revoked some of his predecessor’s policies.

Specifically, the Jan. 20 action canceled Trump’s order limiting federal contractors’ ability to hold workplace diversity and inclusion trainings, which was signed in September.

Biden also ended the Trump administration’s “1776 Commission,” which produced a report highly critical of progressive ideologies in the final days of Trump’s term.

Biden’s order put the Domestic Policy Council, led by Rice, in charge of coordinating “efforts to embed equity principles, policies, and approaches across the Federal Government.”

“This will include efforts to remove systemic barriers to and provide equal access to opportunities and benefits, identify communities the Federal Government has underserved, and develop policies designed to advance equity for those communities,” that order said.

Biden is scheduled to return to the State Dining Room at 4:45 p.m., when he will speak about his administration’s efforts to contain the Covid pandemic.

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