August 10, 2015, Los Angeles – A collaboration of immigrant, Black, criminal justice, labor, and student communities in Los Angeles County launched the LA Divest Campaign with an action to GEO Group Western Regional Headquarters on August 7th. The Campaign demands that L.A. County divest from prisons and jails and that they reinvest in our communities. The Campaign exposes the county’s collusion with the private prison industry and corporate entities whose business it is to build more prisons and jails.
During a press conference and action at the Howard Hughes Center which owns the building of GEO Group’s office, organizers from Enlace, Immigrant Youth Coalition, Afrikan Black Coalition, and Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement, spoke out alongside formerly detained immigrants part of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement. Jennicet Gutiérrez, who interrupted President Obama’s Pride press conference in June, said at the rally, “GEO is making profit’s off of our bodies and treating us horribly and inhumanely. So we’re joining #LAdivest and putting pressure on LA County.”
The group of forty protestors took to the mall next door to perform a skit centered on how GEO Group sees people of color and immigrants as profits. Ending the street performance, the crowd chanted, “Brick by Brick, Wall by Wall, Free Them All! Free Them All!”
The protest then briefly took over the lobby of the GEO while youth activists chanted, “GEO you can’t hide! We charge you with genocide!”
The protest was both the launch of the #LAdivest campaign and a day of action for the second annual Prison Divest Youth Retreat, which brought together 50 youth from across the country to strategize about bringing prison divestment campaigns to their communities and campuses. During the retreat, the youth who represented queer, trans, undocumented, disabled, Black, and immigrant communities, developed a strong intersectional lens for prison divestment.
Background: In the last 30 years, the number of incarcerated people in the United States has grown by 500%, and is now at 2.5 million and is overwhelmingly people of color. The private prison industry is expanding and adapting to maintain its large prison population. During the 1990s, prisons lobbied for “tough on crime” laws. Then, beginning in 2002, they have focused on laws to grow the new “market” of immigrant detention. Now, they are turning to what many call the “Treatment Industrial Complex” – made up of mental health services, re-entry services, and electronic monitoring. Rather than helping people become free and re-enter society, the prison industry has a profit motive to keep people in the system as long as possible, and they are developing tools to expand exponentially the number of people under state surveillance and control.
Remarking the importance of the LA Divest Campaign, Fernando Antunez, a UCLA student activist said, “The LA Divest Campaign symbolizes a new wave of resistance by diverse LA communities who understand that through increasing public-private partnerships, LA County intends to incarcerate more and more people of color from our communities.” The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department utilizes seven city jails in Southern California that are run by The Geo Group, one of the two biggest private prison corporations.
Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald recently met with The GEO Group at a meeting about AB109 Realignment. The GEO Group is investing in rehabilitation services at the same time they are making millions and millions of dollars on the expansion and operation of prisons, jails and detention centers. “We can’t expect L.A. County to do the right thing and invest available realignment dollars in needed community services when they are looking to The GEO Group to provide services for profit.” stated Mary Sutton, longtime LA anti-prison activist. “There are many government and private entities profiting off the criminalization of poor communities and communities of color that have been systematically disenfranchised. This has got to stop!,” exclaimed Mariana Mendoza, organizer for Enlace.