UC Divests from Private Prisons After Pressure from Black Student Unions

Via Daily Nexus

The University of California has sold approximately $25 million worth of indirect investments in private prison corporations after the Afrikan Black Coalition, which encompasses UC’s nine Black Student Unions, revealed in November that the University held shares in private prisons.Photo Courtesy of Afrikan Black Coalition

The Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC) issued a resolution Thursday demanding that UC divest from private prisons and companies that support private prisons. Later on Thursday, a spokesperson from the UC Office of the President (UCOP) confirmed the University’s shares in private prisons, which were part of a broader portfolio, had been sold on Dec. 1.

UCOP’s Director of Media Relations Dianne Klein said after ABC announced in November that UC had $25 million invested in private prisons, the University decided to sell its shares in the companies.

“The students brought this to our attention, and based on that, we looked at our investments in private prisons, which total less than $30 million, and we decided to sell them — they are gone,” Klein said.

Klein said UC does not issue statements on divestments, but does routinely review its investments, totaling $91 billion, to see if they are financially sound.

“We see the issue of private prisons as: Is that really sustainable? Is that going to make us money in the long term? And we don’t think so for these social reasons,” Klein said. “From a risk perspective, it didn’t make sense to hold on to these assets.”

UCSB alumnus and Political Director of ABC Yoel Haile said UC’s investments in private prisons supported a system that disproportionately harms poor people and people of color.

“[The investments were] a practical example of how the UC system doesn’t value black lives or immigrant lives or poor lives because it is underwriting an enterprise that is systematically targeting our people,” Haile said.

Haile said there is a contradiction between UC’s public stance and the corporations in which it is invested financially.

“When the UC system is the largest public institution in the country and is investing millions of dollars into [private prisons] … the message is obviously that you support this because, even if you say rhetorically that you don’t, your money is speaking,” Haile said.

Haile said ABC members have been speaking with UCOP Chief Investment Officer of the Regents Jagdeep Singh Bachher since August, and are hopeful that his office continues to work with the coalition on its additional demands, which include issuing quarterly investment reports and divesting $425 million from Wells Fargo, which owns shares in private prisons.

“[Bachher] has stated that he wants to partner with us, and we hope that he becomes a good partner in this matter,” Haile said. “We really hope that the UC does the right thing. And if it doesn’t, then it’s going to have to deal with black students.”

UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang said he was looking forward to discussing the issue more with students in the future.

“I appreciate the Afrikan Black Coalition and the Black Student Union bringing up this current issue, and we look forward to having more dialogue and discussion with our ABC and BSU students … at upcoming Regents meetings,” Yang said in an email.

UCSB Black Student Union Political Chair and fourth-year environmental studies major Nia Mitchell said she sees this as one step toward a larger goal.

“We’re getting the ball rolling,” Mitchell said. “I think this is just the beginning of seeing what black unity and solidarity among people of color can do for the equity of all of our people.”

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