Biden orders Justice Dept. to end use of private prisons

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President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris listens at left. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden on Tuesday ordered the Department of Justice to end its reliance on private prisons and acknowledge the central role government has played in implementing discriminatory housing policies.

In remarks before signing the orders, Biden said the U.S. government needs to change “its whole approach” on the issue of racial equity. He added that the nation is less prosperous and secure because of the scourge of systemic racism.

“We must change now,” the president said. “I know it’s going to take time, but I know we can do it. And I firmly believe the nation is ready to change. But government has to change as well."

Biden rose to the presidency during a year of intense reckoning on institutional racism in the U.S. The moves announced Tuesday reflect his efforts to follow through with campaign pledges to combat racial injustice.

Beyond calling on the Justice Department to curb the use of private prisons and address housing discrimination, the new orders will recommit the federal government to respect tribal sovereignty and disavow discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community over the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden directed the Department of Housing and Urban Development in a memorandum to take steps to promote equitable housing policy. The memorandum calls for HUD to examine the effects of Trump regulatory actions that may have undermined fair housing policies and laws.

Months before the November election, the Trump administration rolled back an Obama-era rule that required communities that wanted to receive HUD funding to document and report patterns of racial bias.

The order to end the reliance on privately-run prisons directs the attorney general not to renew Justice Department contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities. The move will effectively revert the Justice Department to the same posture it held at the end of the Obama administration.