Princeton Moving Forward with #PrisonDivest

Over the past year, Princeton Private Prison Divest (PPPD) has been working on a campaign to advocate Princeton’s divestiture and disassociation from corporations that draw profit from incarceration, drug control, and immigrant deportation policies. PPPD, led by Princeton’s Students for Prison Education and Reform, is a coalition of eight student groups on campus that have united under a common cause. We believe that to be associated with, or derive profit from investments in these companies in any way is fundamentally at odds with the University’s commitment to acting in the nation’s service and the service of humanity, and promoting individual human rights.

The key to divestment at Princeton is convincing the University’s Resource Committee to recommend divestment to the Board of Trustees, which is ultimately responsible for decisions on Princeton’s investment practices. We have shaped our campaign to best represent the three criteria upon which the Resources Committee will make its recommendation: campus consensus, sustained support, and demonstrating a conflict with core university values.

While Princeton does not have a designated set of core university values, the most recent expression of Princeton’s values came in the form of our new informal motto: “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.” A major part of our campaign has been convincing the University that supporting the private carceral industry harms the wellbeing of our nation and that of humanity. Private prisons perpetuate a national civil rights crisis, one that falls disproportionately upon the most vulnerable people in our society, and divestment would begin to bring us closer to being in the service to humanity, and would be an important step in aligning Princeton with its purported values.

To gauge campus consensus, we have reached out to three main shareholders on campus: undergraduates, graduates, and faculty. In Spring of 2016, we led an undergraduate student referendum and received overwhelmingly positive results. The referendum received more votes than any other question on the ballot; over 1600 students voted in the referendum, with 89% of those students voting in favor. In addition, in December 2016, we presented to Princeton’s Graduate Student Government (GSG), which voted unanimously to hold a graduate student referendum. Voting on the referendum will take place in February. Most recently, we reached out to Princeton’s faculty to collect signatures for a faculty petition, which has now garnered over 170 signatures from over 40 departments and programs–more support than any other faculty petition in recent memory.

We have yet to encounter resistance from the University community; no opposition movement formed amongst undergraduates in the week that was explicitly designated for the formation of an opposition campaign; likewise, there was no faculty counter-movement or petition against divestment, and the GSG passed our proposal unanimously. However, we continue to face resistance from the Resource Committee, as Princeton is often reluctant to take what it perceives to be a political stand.

To that end, as the next step in our campaign, we are hosting a panel with speakers Christopher Petrella, lecturer at Bates College, Carl Takei, staff attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project, and Judith Greene, director of Justice Strategies. It will be an academic and research-based discussion on the impact of prison and detention privatization on facility conditions and the broader carceral state. This panel will be held on February 6th at 4:30pm in McCormick 101 on Princeton’s campus. We are hoping for the greatest possible turnout to show that this is an issue that many people on campus care deeply about. The Resource Committee plans to vote on our proposal in the Spring, making this one of our last opportunities to show them just how important it is to divest from corporations that perpetuate the pressing human rights crises of mass incarceration and detention.

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