As one of his first actions as President of the United States, Joe Biden ordered the Department of Justice this week to stop renewing contracts with private prisons. As one of four executive actions laying out the White House’s equity plan, it is just the first step in implementing the new administration’s broad-focused racial justice agenda.
“I ran for president because I believe we’re in a battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden said before signing the executive orders. “And the simple truth is, our soul will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to persist.”
Susan Rice, domestic policy advisor at the Domestic Policy Council will lead the charge of coordinating efforts to integrate equity principles and policies across the federal government. She cited a 2016 report from the DOJ inspector general finding that private prisons are “less safe, less secure, and arguably less humane.”
During her speech preceding Biden’s signing, Rice said the new president is committed to reducing incarceration levels while making communities safer. “For too many American families, systemic racism and inequality in our economy, laws, and institutions still put the American dream far out of reach,” Rice said during the press briefing. She also made a point of saying that these latest actions are “just the beginning.”
Appearing to cite the same report, Biden said, “This is the first step to stop corporations from profiting off incarceration that is less humane and less safe as the studies show. This is just the beginning of my administration’s plan to address systemic problems in our criminal justice system.”
Other than reforming the prison system, the four actions Biden signed off on in his first week in office are expansive and varied. According to a preview of each action provided by senior administration officials to CNBC, Biden’s plans also include a presidential memorandum directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to examine the effects of Donald Trump’s regulatory actions that “undermined fair housing policies and laws.” HUD will also be directed to fully implement the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.
The second executive order will push federal agencies to respect the sovereignty of Tribal governments by engaging regularly and meaningfully. Finally, an executive memorandum — bringing together the Health and Human Services Department with Biden’s COVID-19 health equity task force — will look at best practices for advancing sensitivity and “cultural competency” toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in COVID response efforts. As part of this memo, the DOJ will be directed to partner with communities to prevent xenophobic hate crimes and harassment.
Tuesday’s measures are part of Biden’s rollout of more than 20 executive actions in the first days of his administration, reports NPR. One action signed last week requires all federal agencies and departments to examine the ways they address racial equity.
“I firmly believe the nation is ready to change,” Biden said before signing. “But government has to change as well.”