KACRSI asks to divest from private prisons

Via The Knox Student | Erika Riley

The Knox Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investment (KACSRI) has made their first report, a proposed divestment from the private prison industry.

The purpose of the KACSRI is to advise the president on socially responsible investing of the college’s endowment. The committee was created during the 2017-2018 school year.

Professor of Psychology Tim Kasser sent out the report to the campus community on Monday, April 15. The report outlines reasons that the college should consider divesting in the private prison industry. Kasser’s email provided two ways to provide feedback: either directly via email or via a Google form.

After KACSRI collects responses, they will give their report to president Teresa Amott. She will then decide whether or not to pass the report along to the investing subcommittee of the finance committee of the Board of Trustees. That subcommittee will then decide whether or not to pass it along to the finance committee, who will decide whether or not to take it to the board.

Kasser says that the private prison industry does not align with Knox’s values.

“Our view is that that industry is inherently at odds with Knox’s values because it profits off of maximizing incarceration,” he told TKS in an interview. “And of course we know that incarceration in the United States is very inequitably distributed among ethnicities, which also is very problematic for Knox’s values.”

Kasser also mentioned concerns about the way the private prison industry treats prisoners and its own employees. This is further outlined in the report, which states that private prisons often try to cut costs and maximize profits by “a) hiring fewer guards, paying them lower rates, and training them less rigorously than the public sector does; b) providing inadequate health care for inmates; and c) allowing physical conditions in their prisons to deteriorate to dangerous levels.”

The private prison industry is primarily ruled by corporations like CoreCivic, GEO Group and G4S, all of which the report advises to divest from. The report also recommends a screen from any future investing in the private prison industry.

Several other institutions have divested from private prisons, including Columbia University, the University of California system, Stanford University and Georgetown University.

Junior Katerina Sasieta, who has been a part of KACSRI since it began, is glad to see private prisons as the subject of the first report.

“I’m excited about it, I think it’s something that’s in the media a little bit right now. I think … private prisons are not in line with Knox’s values,” she said.

Since this is the first report and the process is new, Kasser says the committee has been making sure to really focus on the process and hear all voices.

“We’ve been careful all along to get everybody’s input from those different constituencies, to carefully proceed. It’s more important for us to go slow and do it right than to make something happen quickly,” he said.

The committee will also be holding two open forums to hear from the Knox community, on Monday, April 22 from noon to 1 p.m. and on Tuesday, April 23 from 7 to 8 p.m., both taking place in the Lincoln Room of Seymour Union. The forums will include a brief presentation by members of KACSRI and then open up into a Q&A.

The committee hopes to get the complete report to the president by the end of Spring Term, before the June Board of Trustees meeting.

“What the president does with that report is up to her. My hope is that we give it to her in time for her to make a decision, and to be able to get it to the investment committee,” Kasser said. “So we don’t expect that the board will make any decisions this spring by any means, but hopefully by sometime next academic year.”

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