Several activist groups are planning events throughout the country to raise awareness on mass incarceration and private prisons. During the week of April 17, prisons divestment groups will call on institutions to divest from private prisons.
“We see private prisons as banking on inequality and driving new ways to capitalize on it—both racial and economic inequality,” said Jamie Trinkle, development coordinator at Enlace “Our campaign right now is to take on the lobbying power of private prisons.”
The campaign to tackle the power of private prisons to influence public policy dovetails into what has become a central theme in the 2016 campaign with Bernie Sanders highlighting the corrupting impact of lobbyists.
The largest prison corporation is Corrections Corp of America (CCA). It garnered its first contract in 1983 under the Reagan Administration’s Immigration and Naturalization Service to house detained immigrants in Texas.
Since then CCA and other private prisons have become a multi-billion-dollar business, with the two largest corporations bringing in 3.3 billion in revenue. In 2014, CCA netted $195,022,000 in profits. Its nearest competitor GEO group also experienced significant growth earning $41,845,000 in 2007 to $143,840,000 in 2014.
Their top executives each received over $3 million in compensation.
This good fortune is not a product of increased consumer demand in a free market economy but the result of crony capitalism and political corruption that has allowed private prisons to influence public policy.
Since 1989, working with American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), private prisons have funneled over $10 million to politicians and spent $25 million lobbying for tougher prison sentences and immigration policies.
The return on investment for the private prison industry corresponded with a quadrupling of the prison population in the past 40 years. From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated increased from 500,000 to 2.3 million people.
In 2013, the prison industry sought to deepen the blue in its balance sheet by receiving an exemption from corporate income taxes. The IRS granted them Real Estate Investment Status (REIT), which allowed them to be considered an estate. This convenient loophole saved CCA and GEO $113 million in taxes in 2015.
That’s $113 million that states could invest in prison training and reentry programs.
“We want to go after that $113 million,” Trinkle said. “We’re calling on congress to take action by making an exception to the REIT law.”
Enlace has also been working to get institutions to divest from private prisons and calling on Americans to recognize that many of us are knowingly and unknowingly complicit in mass incarceration.
Since 2011, several large organizations have divested in private prisons including Pershing Square Capital Management, which divested it’s CCA holdings of over 7 million shares worth $180 million; likewise, Systematic Financial Management LP dumped $98 million worth of CCA and GEO Group shares; the Pension Board of the United Methodist divested of it’s $1 million holdings; Columbia University was the first university to remove private prison holdings from its endowment, divesting of $10 million from CCA and G4S.
The 2016 Divestment Week of Action will include events in the following cities:
- 4/17-4/21 NYC, campus education forums & protests, CUNY Prison Divest
- 4/18-4/22 Oberlin, campus education forums, Oberlin Prison Divest
- 4/21 Portland, Community Canvass and #RevokeREIT rally, Enlace
- 4/20-4/21 D.C., meetings with Congressional staffers to revoke REIT for prisons, Advancement Project and United We Dream
- 4/25 NYC, Community Canvass and #RevokeREIT rally, Enlace, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Families for Freedom, Responsible Endowments Coalition, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project
- Weeklong petition & education drive to end tax breaks for private prisons tinyurl.com/NoPrisonTaxBreaks