Transcript: Standing up to private prisons
The private prison industry is the driving force behind the criminalization of brown and black communities in the United States. Since 2001 the private prison industry has concentrated its profits by locking up immigrants in detention centers and federal prison. Immigration detention is now 5 times bigger than it was 20 years ago. The US spends more than $2 billion a year to keep 33,400 people locked in immigration detention each day. Much of this money goes to private prisons. The two largest private prison companies in the United States, Corrections Corporation of America or CCA and the GEO group own more than 100 prisons and detention centers with more than 150,000 beds throughout the US. Every year they earn revenue of more than $3.2 billion combined.
These companies only profit when supported by laws designed to keep people in jail. A recent report by Anonymous Analytics shows that the business model of private prisons relies on the unsustainable 700% growth of the prison population since 1970. The United States is locking an unprecedented number of people away. Not because of the change in population or crime rates, but because of new laws and policies targeting minority communities. Private prisons depend on the bodies provided by the criminalization of these communities in order to keep profiting.
Right now private prisons are focused more than ever on immigrant detention. The CEO and founder of GEO, George Zoley, has said that “the main driver for the growth of new beds at the federal level continues to be the detention and incarceration of criminal aliens.” These policies have led Latinos to become the fasting growing demographic in federal prisons. Over have of private prison inmates are Latino. The private prison industry relies so much on the anti-immigrant laws and policies that it spends millions of dollars a year writing these laws and making sure they are passed. Policies like Operation Streamline and Arizona’s SB1070 have turned immigrants into commodities to be locked up and paid for.
Operation Streamline demands that every migrant caught crossing the Mexican border without documents will be criminally prosecuted and put in jail for anywhere between 70 days and 10 years before they are deported. Migrants are rapidly in large groups with only a few minutes to see a lawyer. Under Operation Streamline, Judge Robert Brack of Los Cruses New Mexico has sent more people to prison than any other federal judge. He has spoken out against the injustice of sentencing thousands of people a month for what was never before considered a crime. “Every day I see people who would not have been considered as criminal two years ago. – Judge Robert Brack.
Arizona’s SB 1070 was taken almost word-for-word from model legislation derived from CCA and the American Legislative Exchange Council, the most active private prison lobbyist group. Through this law and copycat laws in other states, CCA also ensured that states would also pay to lock up immigrants. Laws and contracts even require that ICE keep detention centers full regardless of judicial discretion. One typical contract from 2011 stipulates that the government will be required to order at least 90% of the prison capacity to be filled. This contract commits to pay CCA $400.9 million over the next 10 years. This system is how CCA and GEO group have been able to spend a combined $26 million in lobbying since 2004 in order to make $20 billion in the same period.
So how do we break the cycle? We can stop the flow of money to private prisons. Activists and community organizations are calling for divestment from the private prison industry. Like any major multi-national corporation, CCA and GEO group rely on investments from stockholders which include anyone from individuals and organizations and other companies to churches, schools and even cities. By calling on these organizations to demonstrate their commitment to human rights we limit private prisons lobbying power and expose them for the inhumane policies they create. In early 2012 the United Methodist Church divested its entire pension fund, the largest faith based fund in the country from private prisons. Wells Fargo have caved to pressure from the divestment campaign and divested nearly 70% of its holdings in GEO group since 2011.
Students are also getting involved. In the spring of 2013, students refused to let Florida Atlantic University accept $6 million of tainted money from GEO Group. University of California students throughout the state are moving student senate money out of the private prison industry and working to push the entire UC system towards complete divestment from private prisons and companies that profit from prison labor.
NJC is now focusing its campaign on the city of Portland, a city that not only currently invests in private prisons, but also ships its detainees to a GEO Group operated detention center in Tacoma Washington. The divestment campaign is calling on Portland to become the first city in the United States to divest from the private prison industry.
Learn more about these struggles and successes at prisondivestment.org and prisondivestment.wordpress.org. Work with us to end CCA and GEO Group’s profiteering off of racism and human misery.
Standing up to Private Prisons; Prisondivestment.org