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National civil rights coalition launches campaign against for-profit prisons

Corporate investors and board members urged to drop exploitative business

9/12/2013, midnight
Private prisons.

Leadership, launched a national campaign to put an end to the for-profit private prison system. Through extensive and direct outreach, the campaign is asking investors and board members of for-profit prison companies to divest themselves of that business practice—or face being held publicly accountable.

“The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. For-profit prison companies rake in billions in annual revenue by promoting and exploiting mass incarceration and racial-bias in the criminal justice system; further accelerating our nation’s prison crisis,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange. “The prison industry depends on investors and corporate backers for the capital it needs to keep growing. At the end of the day, the more people in prison, the better private prisons and their investors and corporate backers do. As a result, they hire lobbyists, advocate for harsh drug laws and mandatory minimums, and promote a culture of support for incarceration all at the expense of Black and Brown communities and taxpayers of all races.”

According to ColorOfChange, federal agencies and state governments contract with three main companies to lock people up: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group, Inc., and the Management and Training Corporation (MTC). The top two prison companies, CCA and GEO, are publicly traded and financed by investors, major banks and corporations, who hold shares in the industry. CCA and GEO Group make money by charging a daily rate per body sent to them—costing taxpayers billions for dangerous, ineffective facilities. The industry also makes money by avoiding tax payments. CCA will dodge $70 million in tax payments this year by becoming a real estate investment trust (REIT) and designating their prisons as “residential.”

ColorOfChange also alleges that in order to maximize profits, prison companies cut back on staff training, medical care, and rehabilitative services—causing assault rates to double in some private prisons as well as by lobbying for and benefiting from laws that put more people in jail. In the 1990’s, CCA chaired the Criminal Justice Task force of shadowy corporate bill-mill, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which advocated for passage of “3 strikes” and “truth in sentencing” laws that continue to send thousands of people to prison on very harsh sentences.

However, in many parts of the country, the political tide is shifting against the for-profit prison industry, says ColorOfChange. Earlier this summer for example, Kentucky, Texas, Idaho, and Mississippi broke ties with CCA after reports of chronic understaffing, inmate death, and rising costs to the states became undeniable. In April, New Hampshire rejected all private prison bids because the prison corporations could not show that they would follow legal requirements for safely housing prisoners.

And, there is growing opposition to California Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to comply with a Supreme Court order to alleviate the state’s prison overcrowding crisis by moving thousands of prisoners into private facilities, at a public cost of $1 billion over three years.

To view the campaign’s petition, go to: http://act.colorofchange.org/sign/privateprison_divestment/

ColorOfChange, in partnership with Grassroots