At a protest earlier this year, at California State University at Sacramento (CSUS), students demanded the university divest its financial ties to for-profit prisons.
CSUS students have followed student demands that took place in 2015 at Columbia University and the University of California. Students pressured the universities to divest their shares in G4S, the GEO Group and CoreCivic. The University of California divested $30 million from those companies, according to Sacramento News & Review reporter Scott Thomas Anderson.
“We don’t agree with what these private prison companies are doing,” said Aya Khalifeh, president of Students for Justice in Palestine. “We’re completely aware of the grave issues going on and the role these corporations play in mass incarceration.”
“We don’t agree with what these private prison companies are doing”
The Sacramento students held a meeting to discuss the resolution for CSUS to divest from Wells Fargo, because of the bank’s key investments in private prison companies.
California legislators were already in the process of dealing with the private prison issue and had passed a bill just prior to the students’ meeting.
East Bay Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D) authored Assembly Bill 1320, which would halt all new contracts between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the private prison industry by 2018. The bill would phase out all inmates in private custody by 2028.
The bill passed unanimously through the public safety committee and will be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee; from there it will move to a final vote in the state house. It will also need the senate’s and governor’s approval, said the article.
The Sacramento News & Review reported that Bonta argued there is a clear monetary incentive for private prisons to shortchange rehabilitation efforts: more victims of crime and incoming convicts equal a higher earning trajectory.
CoreCivic representative reminded committee members why CoreCivic’s services were called upon. Federal judges in 2007 ruled that due to prison overcrowding and inmate deaths, the state had to reduce its prisoner population by 40,000. CoreCivic lobbyist John Latimer said, “We were simply part of that process, and we’re proud of that,” even though CoreCivic is taking no position on AB1320.
A CDCR report in January 2016 showed that more than 23 percent of that initial reduction of 40,000 prisoners was achieved by shipping inmates to private prisons.
Critics of private prisons have noted that CoreCivic and rival prison corporations GEO Group and G4S have faced mounting lawsuits alleging that low-wage guards, underfunded background checks and other cost-cutting measures have led to prisoner abuses while profits soared. In 2015 GEO Group reported profits of $1.8 billion.
Paraphrasing keynote speaker Ahmad Saadaldin of Peace House, Anderson wrote, it’s vital for the public to educate itself on the untold story of the private prison industry, particularly how the companies used the American Legislative Exchange Council to financially support politicians who championed so-called ‘tough on crime’ bills, driving up both the number of incarcerated Americans and private prison contracts at the same time.