'Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic': Why This Abolitionist Believes Biden's Executive Order on Private Prisons Isn't the Progressive Measure He Thinks It Is

Kim Wilson, Ph.D., is the living embodiment of “I’m not new to this, I’m true to this.” The co-host and producer of the Beyond Prisons podcast’s commitment to prison abolition goes well beyond her academic and media work.


“I have two sons who are currently serving life in prison without the possibility of parole. So this is something that I live,” said Dr. Wilson. “This is my life, every single day.”

Back in January, President Biden issued an executive order, which called on the Justice Department to end its use of private prisons. But for many, the presidents plans didn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to meeting their demands. In fact, Dr. Wilson’s first impression after reading the executive order was “meh.”


“If you do a close reading of the executive order, what they do in part right at the beginning, is they borrow the language of abolitionists. This sounds like it’s a good thing, but it’s really not. It’s really kind of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” she said.

 Less than 9 percent of the United States’ total prison population are held in privately owned prisons, so according to Dr. Wilson it is a myth to believe private facilities are going to be how “we end mass incarceration in this country.”

Her main issue, however, is that the order says nothing about actually letting people go and instead emphasizes individual rehabilitation and redemption, which is problematic considering the current use of prisons as a place to solve social problems, like homelessness and substance abuse issues.

“We criminalize all of those social problems, and abolitionists are saying prisons create more harm than they ameliorate. Prisons aren’t getting rid of any of that stuff. What it does is it disappears it right from public view.”


Watch as prison abolitionist Dr. Wilson breaks down why Biden’s executive order on private prisons isn’t the progressive measure some folks think it is, why locking people up and throwing away the key will never be the answer, how we can seriously address social issues and more in the video above.

Jessica Moulite is an award-winning Video Producer at The Root passionate about dismantling unjust societal power structures and all things Black culture. She's also probably watching “Living Single.”


I, however, would like to see the Root follow the executive order on removing the private prison industry from the federal level. It doesn’t solve everything at once, but it makes important strides. One of the strides is the removal of the profit motive from incarceration.

In the case of the Atlanta spa shooter, as an example, we as a society don’t need to make a profit from his life imprisonment.  The goal is the safe separation of a killer from society at large, not to make a profit from him.

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