Private prisons are symbolic of wider, systemic problems; and we must divest!
In a time where so many of us feel lost in this increasingly charged political environment, and we are all looking for ways to plug in, opposing the prison industrial complex is an easy target. Prison reform is an issue we all have stake in. In 2016, private prisons were holding almost 75% of federal immigration detainees. Prisons are incubators for physical and sexual violence, transphobic and ableist discrimination. Our prisons hold massive amounts of Black folks, who are nearly six times as likely to be arrested than whites. Systematic and racially biased policing and imprisonment of people hurt families, destroys communities, and undermines democracy and basic freedoms. The privatization and expansion of the prison industrial complex is a disgusting manifestation of the increasingly capitalist and inhumane world that is evolving around us.
Last August, the United States Department of Justice formally issued a directive intending to terminate all contracts with the private prison industry. The Department, led by Deputy Attorney General, Sally Yates, cited issues with security and safety, lack of cost efficiency, and lack of offered services as just some of the reasons that the DOJ will be allowing their contracts to expire with private prisons.
In 2015, Columbia University groundbreakingly announced their divestment from private prisons, selling off their shares in corporations that participate in the privatization of prisons, including CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America). After students highlighted that these investments were supporting an unjust violent system built on discrimination, the school formally divested. Columbia has been joined by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and the University of California’s 10 campuses in its condemnation of private prisons.