Wells Fargo Complicit in Private Prison Industry

Wells Fargo Complicit in Private Prison Industry:
City of Portland Committee Recommends Divestment
2016 02 PDXFebruary 23, 2016

After several months of deliberation and community input, yesterday the Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) committee voted unanimously to recommend that the City of Portland divest of their holdings in Wells Fargo & Company due to the company’s financing of for-profit incarceration, and their “morally bankrupt” lending practices.

Paulino Ruiz of Woodburn spoke at today’s SRI committee meeting about his two years in immigrant detention, and his role is catalyzing hunger strikes at the GEO Group owned Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. He said, “I was retaliated against for [the hunger strike]… I had no access to my attorney, my case information, or family support…  Just during my detention, prisons and investors like Wells Fargo made over $100,000 that could have been spent doing good for the community instead.”

This decision marks the first time that a public body has voted for divestment from Wells Fargo due to their complicity in the prison industry. This comes on the heels of recent prison divestment by the California Endowment, Columbia University and the University of California, and pledges by Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders to outlaw private incarceration.

“We are thrilled that the committee made the right decision today. Our Black, Latino and immigrant communities have suffered enough from incarceration,” said Mary Mendez of Enlace, convener of the national Prison Divestment Campaign. “Divestment from private prisons is part of a larger movement to end mass incarceration and immigrant detention.”

“Today’s decision indicates that it is time to take the profit motive out of incarceration,” said Kayse Jama, Director of the Center for Intercultural Organizing and coalition partner of the Portland Prison Divestment Campaign. “Private prison corporations and their financial backers like Wells Fargo should not be profiting from incarceration, and should not be allowed to lobby on criminal justice and immigration policy, because their motivation is to put more and more people behind bars.”

Dave Cutler, Finance Director for Service Employees International Union, Local 49 and member of the Socially Responsible Investment committee said, “Portland is becoming a national leader in socially responsible investment. After closely examining Wells Fargo’s history of financial ties with private prisons and predatory lending, it became clear to the committee that the correct decision was to recommend no new investments until the bank’s practices change.”

”Philanthropic institutions need to be cognizant of the impact of their investments on the communities they serve,” said Daniel Zingale, Senior Vice President, The California Endowment. “Investment in for-profit prisons should be a non-starter for any foundation committed to serving the poor and disenfranchised.”

February 22, 2016 marked the first vote taken by the Socially Responsible Investment committee, which was formed in accordance with a City Council resolution in 2015. The next step to achieve full divestment from the private prison industry is a vote to finalize the committee’s recommendation at the City Council.

The City of Portland currently holds $40 million in Wells Fargo corporate bonds.

This vote comes just days before the University of California Board of Regents will discuss a similar proposal for Wells Fargo divestment, brought by the California-based Afrikan Black Coalition. The Board of Regents controls one of the largest University endowments in the country, with assets of approximately $100 billion.

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