President Biden’s executive order phasing out the federal government’s use of private prisons could cost taxpayers $6 million, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which oversees housing federal pretrial detainees, let five contracts lapse after Mr. Biden signed the order in January 2021, reported the Justice Department’s inspector general.
One of the expired contracts was with the operator of the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, which houses 2,016 prisoners.
The marshals still had to house inmates at the facility but were barred from doing so under Mr. Biden’s order. So they skirted the order by signing a contract with an Ohio government agency to oversee the detainees, the report said.
The local agency simply signed a contract with the same private company that was being used by the marshals before the executive order at a much higher rate.
Under the new deal, the cost of housing pretrial detainees at the facility soared to $500,000 per month compared with the previous contract, the watchdog said. That could add up to as much as $6 million a year, according to the inspector general.
“The [government agency] increased the U.S. Marshals’ costs — potentially as much as $6 million per year — and provides the [marshals] with less direct oversight of the facility than when the [marshals] contracted directly with the private contractor,” the report said.
In a response accompanying the inspector general’s report, the Marshals Service said it had begun moving pretrial detainees out of the facility but had not been able to find housing for the remaining 541 inmates.
The agency said the White House refused to grant it an exemption to Mr. Biden’s order, and the only option was to move the detainees to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, concluding that was not feasible.
“While far from the ideal option, this solution prevented having to move detainees nearly 300 miles away at a great expense and creating near-certain due process challenges,” the Marshals Service wrote.
Mr. Biden signed the order as part of his efforts to address racial inequality in America and make good on a promise he made on the campaign trail.
The effort to terminate federal contracts with private prisons began under the Obama administration but was quickly nixed by President Trump in 2017.
At a ceremony to sign the order, Mr. Biden accused corporations of profiting off incarcerating prisoners, calling it “less humane and less safe.”
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
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