On Tuesday July 19th, Berkeley City Council adopted a resolution to divest city funds from private prisons and to send a letter to Wells Fargo and other Million Shares Club members that the city does business with, demanding they divest immediately from the private prison industry.
The Berkeley resolution is the latest victory in a national prison divestment movement that has achieved unprecedented victories in California. Responding to Black student-led organizing by Afrikan Black Coalition and supported by Enlace, the University of California divested its endowment–the largest university endowment fund in the world–from private prisons, and CSULA became the first university to both divest and offer concrete reinvestment in students of color. The California Endowment became the first foundation to publicly divest from prisons last December, and labor councils throughout the state have passed resolutions calling on CALPERS, CALSTRS, and state and federal budgets to stop investing in and funding private prisons. These victories are critical steps in dismantling the private prison industry–the largest companies of which are CCA, GEO, and G4S–and the systems of policing, imprisoning and criminalizing people of color and immigrants in the U.S. and around the globe.
Enlace will be working with Berkeley city government to put this resolution into action. Berkeley is now in competition with the City of Portland, Oregon to see which city will become the first to divest from private prisons. The City of Portland is slated to vote on whether to add prison profiteers Wells Fargo and Bank of NY Mellon to its do-not-buy list this fall.
“Ending city investments in private prisons is part of a larger necessary effort to end private prisons entirely, and to end the criminalization and hyper-incarceration of communities of color and immigrants in the US,” said Amanda Aguilar Shank, Senior Campaign Organizer with Enlace. “Through city, university and pension investments in prisons, we are all connected to an industry that incentivizes caging people instead of providing them with the care and dignity we all deserve. When cities take a stand against private prisons, there is space for the community to ask for what they truly need.”
Cathy Orozco, a commissioner on Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission, expressed support for the city’s policy: “With this resolution, the City of Berkeley is standing up for our community members. Black and brown peoples, immigrants, Palestinians, and other oppressed peoples deserve city governments that stand up for their rights and fight against corporations that profit from their suffering.”