By: Amanda Garces
On December 13th, 2012 the National Private Prison Divestment Campaign held its National Day of Action; community partners in nine states raised their voices to demand that elected public officials and financial institutions cut all ties to Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) and GEO Group (GEO), America’s largest private prison corporations, which have profited from billions in taxpayer money.
In Philadelphia, Philadelphians Allied for a Responsible Economy (PhARE) exhibited their creativity by building a 5-foot tall prison cell called “Wells Fargo Winter Wonderland”. While a member was inside the cell, others were delivering informational flyers in the surrounding area. “It’s the holiday season,” says Amna Shaikh of PhARE, “and I’m not ok with celebrating while immigrants are being torn apart from their families by the private prison complex.” PhARE sought to highlight this disconnect by playing off the image of booths at Christmas Village, an outdoor shopping area that takes place each winter. “Rather than knit scarves or artisanal soap, this cell had one of the members on display, representing the inmates locked away for the sake of bank profit. The cell was taken to two Wells Fargo locations, Senator Toomey’s office, and the Christmas Village itself,” said Sonia, another PhARE member.
Senator Toomey’s office was targeted because he is a member of the Budget Committee, which is in charge of delegating money to private prisons. Very soon, the US Senate and House Budget Committees are set to entertain a budget request by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to add funding for more private prison beds; Senator Toomey has received political contributions from groups directly tied to the private prison industry.
In 2012, Corrections Corporations of America paid the lobbying firm Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc. $ 210,000 ; also in 2012 Toomey received $8,000 from Mehlman’s members and family. Additionally, Toomey has received $30,900 from FMR Corp, $19,950 from Wells Fargo. Both are heavily invested in the GEO Group.
Wells Fargo targeted once again!
Wells Fargo, as in Philadelphia, was the target in New Jersey, Portland, and Salt Lake City. Wells Fargo has been one of the most visible targets since the campaign began in 2011 because it has profited from investing heavily in private prisons while also trying to gain the Latino market.
In September 2012, Wells Fargo sold 33% of its shares In the Geo Group . As the campaign moves forward, partners continue to tell Wells Fargo that partial divestment is not enough and the financial giant cannot have it both ways, continue to market the Latino community while profiteering from putting communities behind bars.
Portland’s action was led by the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee (PCASC), which also displayed their art and creativity. Led by a “tour guide”, the group embarked on a People’s Tour of the Wells Fargo History Museum, an actual museum run by Wells Fargo in downtown Portland. The guide highlighted facts about Wells Fargo’s involvement with the private prison industry. “Tourists were given a lesson on private prisons, and how Wells Fargo has cultivated a loving relationship with the industry by investing with companies that have Secure Communities contracts” said Crystal Contreras a PCASC member. They also announced the news of Wells Fargo’s recent 33% divestment from GEO Group, and celebrated the occasion by unveiling a new installation to the Wells Fargo History Museum – a lovely painting of a prison for the museum wall. The tourists were also accompanied by a six foot long set of bars and two prisoners, who were denied access to the museum by the private security firm guarding the museum. “You’re not part of the real tour,” the guard told them. A video of this event will be completed shortly – check back here for its debut!
In Salt Lake City , there was a demonstration outside a Wells Fargo Branch “We had about 25 people holding signs outside a Wells Fargo branch bank, we got a lot of honks of solidarity, handed out flyers to customers heading into the bank and leaving the drive-through windows, and we also side-walk chalked the perimeter of their business with the slogans “Google: Jails Fargo,” “Immigrants for Sale,” and “Wells Fargo: Dump Your Prison Stock.” Said Jesse Fruhwirth from the Salt Lake City Prison Divestment Campaign.
In New Jersey, Wind of the Spirit (WOS) and their members delivered letters to three Wells Fargo Bank branches asking bank managers to tell their higher ups to cut all ties to private prison
In New York City, the demonstration was led by Families for Freedom and other local prison abolitionists. They targeted Scopia Management, a $3 billion institutional asset management firm. Scopia Management has increased its holdings in GEO since 2011. As of their latest filing (FORM 13F dated 11-15-2012) with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Scopia has 90,989,66 shares of GEO Group with Sole power to divest its holding. Scopia also recently acquired holdings with Corrections Corporation of America and now owns 49268 shares of that company.
Demonstrators hit the street with a marching band, and street art with the goal of educating the general public and shaming Scopia. “It is obscene that people are being detained for a civil matter and even more obscene is that companies, like Scopia Management, are profiting from human misery. Geo Group and CCA and their investors including Scopia Management and Wells Fargo, with their shared resources and interests, have lobbied and influenced lawmakers to make sure that their prisons are filled with our loved ones and their pockets filled with taxpayer money. To see so many people coming out and supporting the campaign is very encouraging. And it also puts pressure on Scopia and others to divest from these private prisons,” said Donald Anthonyson from Families for Freedom.
This action is just the beginning to start to build the pressure for Scopia Management to divest their holdings. “I hope these kinds of actions are just the beginning. We have so much more work to do in fighting prison profiteering and the prison-industrial complex as a whole. But everything helps. A lot of people don’t know prisons are making some people rich, so drawing attention to that is important,” said Lana, a local prison abolitionist.
Budget Committee Members
In Florida, Senate Budget Committee member Bill Nelson’s offices in Tallahassee, Miama and Orlando received visits from the Dream Defenders and Florida Immigrant Coalition. Activists asked Senator Nelson to disavow connections with private prisons. “There are private prison companies that are trying to make money from taxpayers and torn apart families. We hope Senator Nelson heard our message and tells GEO and CCA that he doesn’t want their money or their broken business model. If the election has made anything clear, it is that we want strong families, strong communities and a strong economy,” said Kathy Bird of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “We can’t have any of those things if, while we are in dire fiscal straits, there are private prison companies that are trying to make money from taxpayers and torn apart families. We hope Senator Nelson heard our message and tells GEO and CCA that he doesn’t want their money or their broken business model.”
The Fuerza Coalition In Tucson, Arizona opened the Campaign’s National Day of Action the previous week, urging Democratic Senator Dennis DeConcini to resign from CCA’s Board of Directors. Fuerza, a “…community coalition, composed of migrant justice faith and student organizers, is working to raise public consciousness around the prison industry’s attacks on immigrant communities and hold accountable local leaders involved in the industry’s profiteering on incarceration and criminalization” said Matthew Johnson, a member of the Coalition. The coalition held several events throughout the week calling on DeConcini to resign and as part of our campaign, on December 4th, a flash mob on the University of Arizona Campus surprised and urged students to demand the DeConcini end his affiliation with CCA.
Community members, laity, and faith leaders gathered for a interfaith vigil and procession in chicago. People heard testimonies of migrants in detention and about ICE’s current interest to build a detention camp in Joliet.
The event was in commeration of International Human Rights, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and International Migrants Day and part of the Prison Divestment’s National Day of Action.
After testimonies people gathered outside to begin a procession towards the Federal Building. The crowd of people walked through downtown Chicago chanting and singing religious songs. Once at the Federal Building speakers laid out the demands of immigration reform and an end to immigration detention and moratorium on new detention centers.
The National Private Prison Divestment Campaign members said that they will continue to bring to light the issues with the private prison industry and will push members of the senate and house budget committees to stop funding private prisons.