By Madi Whittemore
NEW YORK, NY – Records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveal the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) is failing to adhere to President Biden’s executive order from January that mandates the Department of Justice (DOJ) terminate private prison contracts.
The records were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, said the ACLU.
According to the letter by the ACLU, “the Attorney General shall not renew Department of Justice contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities,” which follows the major goal of Biden’s Executive Order 14006 that aims to shrink the number of people who are incarcerated in “for-profit” private prisons.
The executive order was Biden’s first attempt at resolving many of the issues that private prisons have, including poor quality of life for incarcerated persons, massive overcrowding because of profit incentives, and the use of private prisons to detain immigrants.
“The for-profit prison industry’s bottom line requires more incarceration — and it comes at the expense of incarcerated people’s and correctional officers’ health, safety, and well-being,” Kyle Virgien, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, stated in the letter.
However, despite President Biden’s direct and clear orders for ceasing private prison contracts, the USMS remains adamant about defying the mandate and it has found two loopholes for doing so, the ACLU contends.
The first loophole is the USMS seeking contract renewals with certain private prisons. However, the ACLU insists the process for these requests lacks any valid documented process—not even for internal reference—but it manages to keep certain private prisons operating.
The second loophole, said the ACLU, is the USMS channeling federal funds through pass-through intergovernmental agreements (pass-through IGAs meaning that there is a legal contract between two or more government entities).
By paying local governments to launder the federal funds, the IGAs “ultimately, subcontract with private prisons, to detain people in USMS custody” and fail to cut ties with these private prisons, according to the records, the ACLU adds.
Consequently, as a result of the USMS defying Biden’s mandate through the loopholes, the USMS is financially providing for 48 for-profit private prison facilities that lock up about 21,000 people each day, constituting one-third of those held in USMS custody, charges the ACLU.
Later in the letter, Virgien further emphasized his concerns about the USMS’s insistence on operating private prisons and explained, “This federal agency’s apparent use of secret exemptions and subcontractor loopholes runs afoul of the Biden administration’s own commitment to end these private prison deals.”
Virgien added, “Our tax dollars should not go into the pockets of for-profit companies that make their money from locking people up in abusive conditions.”
The ACLU letter advocates the USMS “plan for an orderly transition away from for profit prison companies and end its practice of using exemptions and IGAs to evade compliance with EO 14006.”
Along with acting as a clear call to action for the USMS to systematically decrease the carceral footprint, the ACLU’s letter also urges the USMS to invest in and explore government-operated facilities to terminate its reliance on for-profit prisons.