With the Biden/Harris administration newly inaugurated, you may be wondering what the implications are for the criminal justice system, prison reform, and College Guild. This blog will serve as a summary of what has already been done with the Biden Administration’s justice-related initiatives since the inauguration, as well as their promises and limitations.
As present as COVID-19 was in 2020, which has claimed 425,000 lives so far, so was racial inequality and its tie to mass incarceration. Coming off of a presidential campaign promising to strengthen America’s commitment to justice and to reform our criminal justice system, as laid out in The Biden Campaign Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice, President Joe Biden and his administration have already taken steps in fulfilling those promises.
On Tuesday, January 26, 2021, President Biden signed four executive actions, in alignment with the Racial Equity plan he laid out on his first day in office. The actions are aimed at combating discriminatory housing practices, reforming the prison system, respecting the sovereignty of tribal governments, and fighting xenophobia. As a nonprofit with a mission to provide free education to those imprisoned with the goal to ultimately reduce rates of recidivism, Biden’s initiatives to address racial injustice, reduce the number of incarcerated people, and provide resources to communities to prevent crime are very important to the work we do, especially given the disproportionate amount of those incarcerated being people of color.
The following is a brief description of three of the four actions President Biden signed and how they play a role in reforming our criminal justice system and eliminating systematic racism:
Executive Order on Reforming Our Incarceration System to Eliminate the Use of Privately Operated Criminal Detention Facilities: More than two million people are currently incarcerated in the United States, and a disproportionate number of these individuals are people of color. Mass incarceration imposes significant costs on our society and communities, while private prisons profiteer off of federal prisoners in less safe conditions for prisoners and correctional officers alike. “This is the first step to stop corporations profiting off incarceration that is less humane and less safe,” said Biden, adding: “It’s just the beginning of my administration’s plan to address systemic plans in our criminal justice system.”
Memorandum on Redressing Our Nation’s and the Federal Government’s History of Discriminatory Housing Practices and Policies: The Fair Housing Act requires the federal government to advance fair housing and combat housing discrimination. This Presidential Memorandum directs the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to examine the effects of the previous Administration’s regulatory actions that undermined fair housing policies and laws. It directs HUD to take steps to fully implement the Fair Housing Act's requirements, to undo historic patterns of discrimination, segregation, and denied opportunities that often lead to violence, drug use, and incarceration.
Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships: The Biden Administration is committed to re-establishing federal respect for Tribal sovereignty, strengthening the relationship between the federal government and American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes, empowering self-determination, and advancing racial justice for Native communities. In relation to mass-incarceration, The Prison Policy Initiative reports that Native incarceration rates can be up to 7 times that of whites. This Executive Order reinvigorates the commitment of all federal agencies to engage in regular, robust, and meaningful consultation with Tribal governments.
While these first strides were made during Biden’s first week in office, much more than signing executive actions will need to be done for long-lasting changes to be made. Policy changes will need to go through slower-moving Congress, where push backs are expected. Check back into our next blog, which will discuss top issues criminal justice reform advocates are waiting for the Biden Administration to address, including COVID-19 in prisons and jails, ending mandatory minimum sentences, setting more widespread standards for police accountability, decriminalizing drug use, and expanding rehabilitation programs as incarceration alternatives.
These reforms are necessary and long overdue and have yet to address the need for educational opportunities in prisons. The vast majority of people in prison are given no educational opportunities and the resources and funding to address this need are in short supply. We believe prison reform and the end of mass incarceration are essential reforms needed in this country. We tackle social justice work one incarcerated person at a time, connecting them with someone outside prison walls through shared mutual respect and a passion for learning.
We are College Guild.