The University of California System (UC) has decided to sell its $25 million worth of holdings in private prison corporations.
UC’s decision was announced on December 18. It came after a number of meetings with representatives of the Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC) and public protests such as the one that took place in November at the University of California at Davis campus.
During the meetings, ABC members presented research showing the inconsistencies between UC’s goals of expanding education opportunities and its funding of private prison companies that according to ABC “exist to build centers of white supremacist dehumanization, turning Black, brown, and immigrant bodies into a profit under the guise of rehabilitation.”
The two largest private prison corporations, the Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) reported annual revenue of $3.3 billion. They generate this revenue by keeping their prison beds full of inmates.
The US with more than 2 million people in prison has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
This high incarceration rate, which has been a boon to the private prison industry, is largely due to state and federal criminal justice policies that have resulted in the imprisonment of young Blacks and Latinos for minor criminal offenses.
Private prison companies often promote and lobby for these policies.
“The goals of the private prison industry, which are to profit from the incarceration, labor, and rehabilitative treatment of Black and immigrant lives, and the UC’s mission, which is to teaching, research, and public service, are fundamentally incompatible,” writes ABC field organizer Kamilah Moore.
After being informed of UC’s divestment decision, ABC applauded the action.
“This victory is historic and momentous,” said Yoel Haile ABC’s political director. “Divesting $25 million is a good step towards shutting down private prisons by starving them of capital. 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’s decision to divest was based on a financial rather than moral judgement.
UC Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher told ABC staff that when UC makes investment decisions, it “looks at things from a sustainable investment framework” and that an investment in a private prison system was no longer seen as financially sustainable.
UC becomes the first public university in the US to divest its private prison holdings. Columbia University decided in June to sell its $10 million private industry investment after a series of public protests.
While praising UC’s decision, ABC said that it will continue to pressure UC to get rid of all investments that help sustain the private prison industry.
ABC wants UC to reconsider its $425 million investment in Well Fargo.
“Wells Fargo Bank has never been the ally of Black, working class, and migrant people or the intersection thereof,” writes ABC in a statement about UC’s divestment decision.
In addition to discriminating against Black and Latino neighborhoods, says the statement, Wells Fargo is major financier of the private prison industry. It has issued CCA a $900 million line of credit and serves as a trustee for $300 million in bond debt owed by the Geo Group.
Wells Fargo also owns more than one million shares of CCA and Geo Group stock.
By providing financing and investing directly in CCA and Geo Group, Wells Fargo is “effectively financing the dehumanization of Black and migrant people,” says the ABC statement.
ABC is calling on Wells Fargo to end its financial support for CCA and the Geo Group. If the bank refuses to do so, then UC should immediately divest itself of its Wells Fargo holdings.
Any contribution to the for-profit private prison industry is a direct and unethical approval in further dehumanizing Black, brown, and immigrant people for capitalistic gains, writes Haile.
“It is an ethical embarrassment and a clear disregard for Black and immigrant lives for the UC to be investing tens and hundreds millions of dollars in private prisons and their financiers” he continues. “In the age of mass incarceration and Black Lives Matter, UC should be leading the fight for social justice and ethical investing as opposed to bankrolling the inhuman mass incarceration regime that has gripped America.”