Time to divest from private prison companies

It’s time to stop private prison profiteering by refusing to take their profit: divest private prison company stock from personal, pension, and church funds.

There’s no need to speculate that private prison companies have incentive to keep more people locked up: CCA says so. Kanya D’Almeida wrote for IPS 24 August 2011, ‘Profiteers of Misery’: The U.S. Private Prison Industrial Complex:

CCA’s 2010 annual report states categorically that, “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws — for instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”

CCA continues, “Legislation has been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behaviour, (while) sentencing alternatives under consideration could put some offenders on probation who would otherwise be incarcerated. Similarly, reductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities.”

What’s this got to do with Georgia?
In May, when the governor of Georgia passed Senate Bill 87 — its version of Arizona’s notorious anti-immigration law — rights groups were quick to point the finger at for-profit prisons and their lobbyists for sponsoring what many experts have called some of the harshest, most racially charged immigration legislation in recent history.

At the time, Larry Pellegrini, executive director of the Georgia Rural Urban Summit, noted that CCA had a strong lobbying presence in the Georgia legislature. He added that passage of Senate Bill 87 was part of a national effort brought together by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a task force that included a representative from a private prison company and was instrumental in drafting Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070.

Meanwhile, the report [ Gaming the System by the Justice Policy Institute] found that in 2010 alone CCA, GEO and Cornel Companies — the third largest prison corporation — doled out over two million dollars on state politics, including monies to senators, federal candidates and members of the House of Representatives.

So, what can stop this cycle of greed?
Enlace, an alliance of low-wage worker centres, unions, and community organisations in the U.S. and Mexico that wage international campaigns against “abusive transnational corporations”, is currently embarked on a Prison Industry Divestment Campaign to break private prisons’ stranglehold on the justice system.

“We were initially fighting for the rights of economic refugees who flooded the U.S. to escape the consequences of disastrous banking policies imposed on Mexico by U.S. banks like Bank of America and Chase in 1995,” Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, the executive director of Enlace, told IPS. “By raising interest rates in Mexico to astronomical levels, these banks essentially forced millions of people out of their jobs and homes, causing them to flee to the U.S. only to find a huge anti-immigrant movement fuelled largely by for-profit prisons — and behind them, the same financial services sector that caused the crisis in Mexico to begin with.”

“Companies like Wells Fargo, General Electric, Fidelity Investments — these are the major funders of the private prison industry in the U.S.,” Cervantes-Gautschi said. “So we are now calling on all institutions both public and private to divest support from this industry… There is no need for it — incarcerating people for profit is simply not an acceptable business.”

“Most people who have investments — whether through a pension or 401K or church donation — have them in the private prison industry without knowing it,” he added. “So people need to tell their investors to take their money out of private prison companies.”

Divestment worked for apartheid in South Africa. It can work against the prison-industrial-complex in the U.S., a country which keeps far more people locked up (total and per capita) than South Africa ever did.

Meanwhile, we don’t need a private prison in Lowndes County, Georgia. Spend those tax dollars on rehabilitation and education instead.