Tennessee U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen Wants Joe Biden to Clamp Down on Private Prisons

Rep Steve Cohen


Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN-09) said the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service continue to use privately-operated detention facilities to hold prisoners, and he wants President Joe Biden to put a stop to it.

In a letter, Cohen said private prison companies have discovered ways to circumvent an executive order that Biden signed in January. That order directed the attorney general not to renew contracts with privately-operated criminal facilities.

Cohen asked Biden to enforce that executive order.

“Public reporting has highlighted new tactics used by private prison companies to retain federal prison contracts in an effort to continue to reap profits off of the incarceration and dehumanization of those within their custody,” Cohen wrote.

Cohen, citing a 2016 Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General report, said private prisons have higher rates of safety and security problems versus those at federally managed institutions.

Cohen said that the Florida-based GEO Group recently entered a six-month contract extension with the U.S. Marshals Service for a 770 bed Western Region Detention Facility in San Diego, California. He said GEO uses local governments as intermediaries for federal prison contracts “so that private prisons are not directly contracting with the federal government.”

Cohen also said that the Brentwood, Tennessee-based CoreCivic uses the same methods.

CoreCivic spokesman Ryan Gustin addressed Cohen’s letter Monday via an email to The Tennessee Star.

“Any assertion that our company is motivated to ‘reap profits off of the incarceration and dehumanization of those within’ our care is blatantly false. We have every incentive to provide outstanding service to our government partners, just as any other business must meet and exceed the expectations of its customers,” Gustin said.

“The fact that we’ve worked with both Democrat and Republican administrations for the past four decades is a testament to the quality of the services we provide and the genuine need the government has for them. One of the most important ways we serve our government partners is through the flexibility we provide, and we’ll continue working with them in the ways they desire and need.”

Biden, in January, denounced what he called “systemic racism that has plagued our nation for far, far too long” and signed executive actions aimed at “racial equity,” including a measure to end the use of private prisons to hold federal inmates.

“This is the first step to stop corporations from profiting off the incarceration that is less humane and less safe, as studies show,” Biden said at the time.

The Obama administration sought to pull contracts from private prisons. Former President Donald Trump reversed that course.

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]

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12 Thoughts to “Tennessee U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen Wants Joe Biden to Clamp Down on Private Prisons”

  1. william r. delzell

    Good for Steve Cohen! Privatized prisons have far more breeches in security than state prisons as they cut corners on guard safety, inmate safety, and public safety. Escapes are more frequent in privatized prisons. Guards at privatized prisons receive far less pay and benefits than unionized guards at government-run prisons do. Guards at privatized prisons face greater risk of assault by unruly inmates. Guards at privatized prisons have far higher turnover rates than they do at state prisons due to less job security and personal safety. Drugs proliferate more easily at privatized prisons than they do at government-run prisons. The only beneficiaries of the privatized prisons are not the law-abiding citizens who want personal safety, but the owners and stock-holders of these rackets of a prison!

  2. rick

    “Lets Go Brandon” and Cohen too!!

  3. Tim Price

    If it were anyone but Cohen, I would jump on board!

  4. jamesb

    excuse me mr communist cohen but i believe this is a state function unless it is a federal facility in which case maybe senile joe should take the advice of ms omar and open the doors but deliver the worst to your crime infested memphis.

  5. Wolf Woman

    Unfortunately everything the government runs ends up being inefficient and a huge cost to the tax payers (us).

    The problem is the humans who think so little of their fellow human beings that they will commit crimes that hurt them or their possessions, that think so little of themselves that they turn to drugs and alcohol, that they have been raised with no ethics or morals that stigmatizes theft, assault, rape, even murder. Our society is broken and it needs to be repaired.

  6. John

    And all of us citizens want to see Steve and John Cohen serving time in those private prisons.

    You don’t always get what you want….

  7. David S. Blackwell RN, BSN, CCM

    I am good with that. No one should be profiting on corrections. In fact, all non violent drug offenders should be released and marijuana legalized and taxed. The cost savings and tax revenue could be used, in conjunction with our TVA electricity to build light rail systems to move people as we grow.

    1. jamesb

      no thanks. i like my gas powered muscle car

    2. 83ragtop50

      David – I would rather see the private sector using non-government employees make a profit than to watch tax dollars flitted away by lazy government workers. The term “nonviolent” is very often applied to criminals who were a violent threat to their victims. The thought of legalizing marijuana to get taxes is working really well in Colorado. Have you been there lately? It has become a stinking mess. But why stop with “recreational” marijuana. Let’s legalize prostitution for children. Now that should really bring in the tax dollars.

    3. william r. delzell

      I agree with David S. Blackwell!

      1. jamesb

        well i disagree

    4. william delzell

      Maybe if rightists like Marsha Blackburn and Company had to serve time in Core Civic’s privatized prisons, they would become “liberal” on the private prison issue and do all they could to abolish privatized prisons. Tennessee actually ABOLISHED privatized prisons called “convict-leasing” during the 1890’s when striking coal minors forced Tennessee’s government to take over all privatized prisons with the construction of Brushy Mountain.