Urgent Action Today: Supporting Princeton Prison Divestment

Via the Daily Princetonian | March 26, 2017

Today, the University announces its decision to continue funding for-profit prisons and immigrant detention centers. The University thus defends its complicity in institutional violence against the nation’s most marginalized communities.

At the meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community at 4:30 p.m. today in Friend Center 101, the CPUC Resources Committee will publicly announce its decision to reject the Princeton Private Prison Divest coalition’s proposal to divest from 11 companies operating or exclusively contracting with private prisons and immigrant detention centers. We ask all Princeton students and residents to come to Friend 101 at 4:00 p.m. in order to demonstrate that our community stands unified against investments that disproportionately perpetrate violence upon people of color and undocumented individuals.

Before considering a divestment proposal, the University requires evidence that there is a campus consensus in favor of divestment. The PPPD coalition has been in conversation with the Resources Committee for over a year now. In this time, we have held multiple teach-ins, two referenda, a well-attended panel, and a faculty petition, and have continuously published updates on the campaign. Over the course of this extensive, sustained public engagement, we have demonstrated a high degree of community interest on the issue of for-profit detention. Since its founding last year as a coalition of student groups, PPPD has grown as a movement to include thousands of students, faculty members, and local residents who have voted or signed in favor and voiced their support at our events.

We have collectively proved that there is strong campus consensus in favor of divestment from private prison and immigrant detention corporations. Of the thousands of students who responded to our undergraduate and graduate referenda, the vast majority voiced their support. 89 percent of undergraduate students and 85 percent of graduate students voted in favor of divestment. We have gathered signatures from over 180 faculty members, making this petition one of the most widely supported expressions of faculty sentiment in recent memory. During this period of high public visibility, there has been no organized, sustained opposition to the divestment campaign.

We have fulfilled the two criteria established by the University in considering divestment proposals: campus consensus around divestment and a compelling body of evidence that the investments in question represent a conflict with core University values. The University defines these values as “integrity, respect for others, diversity, and freedom from bias and harassment,” all of which are flagrantly violated by for-profit detention corporations. The University’s investments in for-profit detention instead align Princeton with the blatantly racist agenda of the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In our meetings with administrators, we have repeatedly called attention to the compelling empirical evidence illustrating the many failings of privatized incarceration. Such evidence includes a Department of Justice report highlighting the frequency of safety and security incidents in privately-run facilities, an Arizona Department of Corrections study dispelling the myth of cost savings in private prisons and pointing to quality concerns, and a Minnesota Department of Corrections study revealing significantly higher rates of recidivism for people incarcerated in private as opposed to public prisons. As scholars and experts within correctional agencies have pointed out, the for-profit detention industry’s abuses include rampant sexual misconduct by employees and high rates of violence as well as lack of transparency on facility operations and massive industry lobbying against criminal justice reform.These are only a few of the numerous reports and studies by correctional agencies and scholars outlined in our proposal, which demonstrate the widespread agreement among experts with respect to the egregious flaws and abuses of for-profit detention.

It is troubling that administrators have paid so little attention to these reports and studies. Much worse, they have yet to acknowledge even the basic legitimacy of the voices and perspectives of those who are directly affected by for-profit detention. We have worked over the past year with formerly incarcerated or detained activists such as Eddy Zheng and Noel Micho, and will continue to organize such collaborations. Let us not as a community forget the urgent importance of the voices of formerly incarcerated people and of undocumented individuals, who unapologetically denounce the many abuses of the for-profit detention industry.The Movement for Black Lives and the NAACP have both specifically called for an end to private prisons as well as other privatized criminal justice-related services. There is a clear consensus among those dedicated to racial justice that the for-profit detention industry constitutes a unique threat to the safety and dignity of communities of color.

Princeton Private Prison Divest is only one part of a growing national movement, which is increasingly demonstrating the degree to which Princeton University currently stands on the wrong side of history.

Today, the Resources Committee announces a truly shameful decision. By ignoring the campus consensus in favor of divestment, the Committee tosses aside any semblance of institutional accountability. The Committee’s decision is a slap in the face to the University community that has come out time and time again to support the divestment campaign. The Resources Committee’s decision reflects a fundamental disregard for the safety and dignity of undocumented people and communities of color across the nation and within our own town.

But the Princeton Private Prison Divestment coalition will not stop here. Starting this afternoon at 4:00 p.m. in Friend 101, it is time that community members unapologetically make their voices heard.

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