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U.S. Marshals Service Finds Way To Circumvent President Biden's Executive Order To Phase Out Private

The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) found a new way to bypass President Biden's executive order to phase out private prisons and paying a steep price for its tactics. Biden's January 2021 order explicitly prohibited the government from renewing contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities. However, divesting from the privately owned Northeast Ohio Correctional Center (NEOCC) in Youngstown proved challenging.

To sidestep the directive while continuing to use NEOCC, the USMS enlisted the Mahoning County, Ohio government to contract with CoreCivic, the owner of the facility. This maneuver allowed them to maintain the status quo while increasing costs by up to $500,000 per month and undermining control over detainee treatment, as the Justice Department's inspector general reported.

This costly workaround allowed the USMS to follow the letter but not the spirit of Biden's order, which aimed to reduce profit-based incentives for incarceration. Biden cited a previous inspector general's study highlighting safety and security concerns in contract prisons compared to federal institutions.

Facing a contract expiration with NEOCC and White House Counsel's Office approval for only a 90-day extension, the USMS explored alternatives but found none viable. They settled on a "pass-through" agreement with the county government, resulting in increased costs. The lack of documentation concerning White House approval raised questions, but officials claimed that additional information about costs would likely not have changed the outcome. The monthly cost at NEOCC increased by 21% under the agreement with the county, with Justice officials attributing the hike to inflation and other factors, though the inspector general's report contested this.

One larger issue is why the USMS needs so many detention beds, particularly for individuals not posing public safety threats, raising questions about pretrial detention practices.

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