Biden's New Executive Order Signifies a Win and Small Step Towards Prison Reform

Photo: (Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images)

On January 20, 2021, the nation and the world watched as a divisive administration came to an end, and hope was once again restored for many American citizens, especially members of historically underrepresented communities. Under the new Administration, President Joe Biden has signed an array of equity-driving executive orders, including Executive Order #14006, which focuses on criminal justice reform.

Signed on January 27, this order will stop the U.S. government from renewing contracts with private prisons, which tied profits to the U.S. incarcerated population, providing an incentive for mass incarceration. President Biden seemed to have that issue in mind in drafting this order, writing, "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."

This order is especially important to Black and Brown people in the U.S. due to a long history of racial targeting and discrimination in the U.S. justice system. With more than two million people incarcerated in the U.S., Black and Brown people are much more likely to be imprisoned compared to white people. In 2018, Black Americans represented 33% of the prison population, while only making up 12% of the entire U.S. population, according to an article by the Pew Research Center. Private prisons are important to address, but many hope that other issues like mandatory minimums, racist policies and excessive sentencing are next on the new Administration’s list.

Further, the fact that this change is in the form of an Executive Order, rather than as policy is interesting to note. Executive orders are laws and are typically put in place to express a sitting president's top priorities. However, Executive Orders only reflect the executive branch of government and are issued without the consent of Congress. History teaches us that Executive Orders are significant, but offer pathways to m