IMG_3685.JPGNewark, NJ – Members of New Jersey Prison Divest, a newly formed coalition of community and student organizations, rallied today outside of the Newark Residential Reentry Center, which is owned by GEO Group Inc., the second largest private prison corporation in the country. This rally marked the launch of the coalition’s campaign against mass incarceration and criminalization in New Jersey.

Made up of 15 community and student organizations working on issues around immigrant rights and criminal justice, New Jersey Prison Divest held a community speak-out in front of the halfway house. Representatives who spoke included those from Pax Christi, New Jersey Communities United, Wind of the Spirit, Paul Robeson Prison Divestment at Rutgers University, and People’s Organization for Progress. These speeches included direct experiences of those who were formerly incarcerated or affected by criminalization and mass incarceration.

The coalition’s launch outside the Newark Residential Reentry Center highlights the expansion of privatization for the extraction of profit within New Jersey communities, as well as private prisons’ overall role in fueling mass incarceration and criminalization of mostly Black and immigrant communities. According to a report released by Grassroots Leadership, Senior Vice President and President of GEO Care Ann Schlarb remarked that the Newark Residential Reentry Center–a company-leased 240-bed residential reentry center under contract with the State of New Jersey–is expected to generate approximately $5.5 million in annualized revenues.

“For-profit prison corporations, like GEO, are no longer exclusively working in prison facilities, but are expanding further through privatization to make a profit,” said Natalie Casal, a national organizer with the prison divestment campaign. “With the pressure put nationally to cut ties with private prison companies, GEO has moved towards businesses like halfway houses, centers that are meant to assist folks into adjusting for life after incarceration. Just like the many examples we have of human right abuses from many facilities, we can expect GEO to put profit over people. We shouldn’t allow New Jersey to become a harbor for privatization, instead we should work towards genuine rehabilitation in our communities.”

The GEO Group Inc. is the second largest private prison corporation in the United States behind Corrections Corporation of America. Geo Group has federal and state contracts to manage security prisons, immigration detention centers, the transportation of those incarcerated and halfway houses in 17 states. The corporation also has an exclusive contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to provide supervision and reporting services for non-detained non-citizens in the immigration court system. Over the last ten years, GEO’s consolidated revenue has grown from $517 million in 2002 to $1.69 billion in 2014. In 2013, GEO Group and CCA successfully qualified as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) under lax IRS guidelines; this classification allows both companies to dodge income taxes.

The Newark Residential Reentry facility is only one example of the privatization of treatment services for incarcerated and supervised populations in the state. Community Education Centers (CEC) is another controversial private company that operates halfway houses. In 2015, two inmates were found dead from overdoses and a CEC employee found guilty of sexual assault at the CEC-owned Albert M. “Bo” Robinson halfway house in Trenton.

The NJ Prison Divest Coalition is fighting to expose and oppose the financial ties and profit motive behind mass incarceration and criminalization in New Jersey. Targeting private prison corporations and demanding that their revenue stream be cut off is one step towards fighting the overall mass incarceration and criminalization of Black and immigrant communities. The NJ Prison Divest coalition’s overall objectives include the following:

  • Stop the contracting and outsourcing of treatment services like halfway houses and drug rehabilitation centers to for-profit companies

  • Divest the endowment of Rutgers University from private prison companies and their major investors, which include big banks like Wells Fargo and JP Morgan.

  • Target the private prison lobby and cut all private prison money out of politics

  • Invest state money in the genuine rehabilitation of Black and immigrant communities, like putting money into jobs, housing, and education.

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