U.S. bishops on Monday praised the Biden administration for its "actions to promote racial equity" in housing and criminal justice reform.


"The federal government has a critical role to play in overcoming and redressing our nation's history of discrimination, and we hope the administration follows through on the important work of promoting fair housing and human dignity," Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux said in a joint statement on Monday.


Archbishop Coakley chairs the domestic justice committee of the U.S. bishops' conference (USCCB), and Bishop Fabre chairs the USCCB's anti-racism committee.


Last week, the Biden administration took its first step toward increasing federal fair housing regulations. In a presidential memorandum, President Biden instructed the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to review the Trump administration's actions on enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.


The Fair Housing Act was meant to fight racial discrimination in homeownership and housing practices. In 2015, the Obama administration issued a rule to strengthen enforcement of the law.

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Last summer, however, the Trump administration loosened regulations by repealing that rule. Then-HUD Secretary Ben Carson called it "unworkable" and too difficult for local governments to comply with.


The USCCB warned that Carson's rule change would weaken oversight of racial discrimination in housing practices. The repeal "minimized the affirmative responsibility of the government to promote fair housing," the bishops said.


On Jan. 26, Biden directed his administration to review that rule change in a first step toward reversing it. In an executive order on that same day, Biden also instructed the Attorney General to not renew contracts with private prison systems.


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"This is the first step to stop corporations from profiteering off of incarcerating -- incarceration that is less humane and less safe, as the studies show," Biden said. In his order, he stated that federal prisons needed to prioritize "rehabilitation and redemption."


On Monday, the bishops also praised President Biden for the action, calling it another step forward in the fight for racial equity.


"The bishops have long questioned the efficacy of private companies running prisons, and this step is a positive development in criminal justice reform," the bishops said.


"We encourage the administration to consider similar policies in the future regarding civil immigrant detention facilities," they said. In a 2015 report with the Center for Migration Studies, the USCCB pointed to for-profit detention centers as a problem in immigration policy.


Biden, in his Jan. 26 memorandum on housing, stated that his administration's policy would be to "work with communities to end housing discrimination, to provide redress to those who have experienced housing discrimination, to eliminate racial bias and other forms of discrimination in all stages of home-buying and renting, to lift barriers that restrict housing and neighborhood choice, to promote diverse and inclusive communities, to ensure sufficient physically accessible housing, and to secure equal access to housing opportunity for all."