Cutting ties with private prison contractors housing criminal defendants should be just the start for President Obama as he enters the last five months of his presidency.

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THE Obama administration’s decision to phase out private prisons for criminal defendants is both overdue and inadequate.

Justice should not be a profit center. A handful of private-prison contractors in the $7 billion to $8 billion prison industry padded their profit margins by shorting staff and humane services, as illustrated by Shane Bauer’s gripping and grim inside-the-walls, four-month reporting project recently published by Mother Jones.

The Obama administration seems to belatedly agree. A recent inspector general’s report on the for-profit prisons contracted by the federal Bureau of Prisons deemed them overall to be less safe and more poorly run than federally managed prisons.

The inspector general’s report found that assaults on inmates — by corrections officers and by other inmates — occurred more frequently than in federally run prisons. Cellphones were confiscated at a rate almost 10 times greater, and new inmates at the private prisons were routinely housed in isolation cells because of capacity problems, not misbehavior, as federal polices dictate.

The private-prison industry is adept at the crony capitalism of Washington, D.C.”

Despite such systemic problems, the Obama administration’s Homeland Security Department has not made a move to back away from the private-prison contractors that house nearly three-quarters of all immigration detainees. One of the biggest in the country is the 1,575-bed Tacoma detention center run by the GEO Group.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, has championed the cause of reformers outraged by the guaranteed contracts and poor management of the for-profit immigration detention business, and this week he reiterated the need to shut them down. “It is now more clear than ever that for-profit companies have no place in operating prison facilities,” Smith said in a statement.

Doing so will be politically tough because the private-prison industry is adept at the crony capitalism of Washington, D.C. It has buttered congressional candidates with more than $10 million in campaign donations and spent $25 million more on lobbying, according to a Washington Post report last year.

Obama has just five months left to fulfill his promise as a criminal-justice reformer. He has chipped away at unjust polices — ending mandatory exorbitant minimum sentences most prosecutions with of low-level drug crimes, issuing more sentence-reducing commutations than the last seven presidents combined, and is calling for an end to solitary confinement for juveniles.

In his final months, he should take the necessary step and sever ties with profit-driven prisons.