Black Student Groups Score Big Victory Against Private Prisons

CREDIT: AP Photo/Richard Drew

Damon Hiniger, President and CEO of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)

The public University of California (UC) school system will no longer invest in private prison companies. As a result of mounting student pressure to divest, UC removed its $25 million shares from the Geo Group Inc and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) — controversial companies linked to human rights abuses across the country.

The decision to divest was made following a recent meeting between students — many of whom belong to black advocacy groups on UC campuses — and administrators. The school system did not need permission from the Board of Regents, its nonpartisan governing body.

Today, 16 percent of federal prisoners and roughly 6 percent of state prisoners are housed in private correctional facilities, including the ones run by CCA and Geo Group. Because they profit from filling beds, private prisons try to incarcerate as many people as possible, even for minor, low-level offenses. The two companies rake in a combined $3.3 billion every year, and spend millions lobbying the government.

And both are well-known for their gross human rights violations, such as feeding inmates spoiled food, housing them in moldy cells, forcing them to defecate in plastic bags, profiting from free prison labor, and denying them adequate medical treatment. Many prisoners have died under suspicious circumstances.

“By selling their shares they’re sending a message … that the UC system is against human rights abuses,” UCLA alumna and member of the Afrikan Black Coalition, Kamilah Moore told the Los Angeles Times. The coalition, which includes students from all of the UC campuses, issued a resolution in November that cited the disproportionate number of incarcerated African Americans in the country and the rapidly growing private prison industry.

“This victory is historic and momentous. Divesting $25 million is a good step towards shutting down private prisons by starving them of capital,” Yoel Haile, ABC’s political director, said in a press release. “This is a clear example of Black Power and what we can achieve when we work in unity. This victory belongs to the masses of our people languishing behind America’s mass incarceration regime.”

UC still has $425 million invested in Wells Fargo, one of the private prison industry’s primary financiers.

“These attacks … rely on politically motivated sources to advance the inaccurate notion that private prisons are somehow unaccountable,” Pablo Paez, the vice president of corporate relations for the Geo Group, responded to the UC’s decision. “Our facilities adhere to strict contractual requirements and standards set by state and federal governments.”

UC is following the footsteps of Columbia University, which became the first university in the country to withdraw its holdings from private prison companies. In June, Columbia divested from CCA and G4S. The withdrawal also comes three months after UC divested $200 million from coal and oil sands companies, due to student mobilizing.