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Students call on University of Houston to divest from private prisons

Two social work students at the University of Houston are calling on the university to drop shares in four large financial corporations that invest heavily in for-profit prison corporations, such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. Working with End Mass Incarceration Houston, Julia Kramp and Nakia Winfield began a petition that has garnered more than 200 signatures requesting that their university stop “banking on bondage.” Winfield told the Houston Press that private prisons promote increased incarceration at the expense of low-income communities and communities of color.

"Private prisons really prey on and exploit targeted populations: people of color, usually in poor neighborhoods," Winfield said. "They try to pass legislation that increases detentions, that rips apart families, that has people in jail for longer sentences for nonviolent crimes. So it's really insidious on a personal level because of the way it rips apart communities."

The campaign follows in the footsteps of others at Columbia University and the University of California that have successfully led their colleges to divest from private prison stock. The students and an activist from End Mass Incarceration Houston will hold a panel on campus to raise awareness of the issue on April 12, and hope that this will create interest for other actions, such as rallies or sit-ins to support divestment at UoH.

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Does the University of Texas invest in private prisons?

University of Texas alumni staged a sit-in at the office of the dean at the McCombs school of business.
University of Texas alumni staged a sit-in at the office of the dean at the McCombs school of business.
Columbia University this month became the first college in the U.S. to divest from private prisons, as the result of the student organizing campaign, Columbia Prison Divest.

Could the University of Texas be next for a divestment campaign? It's possible. 

According to their publicly available filings, the UT Investment Management Corporation indirectly invests in the two largest private prison companies through its more than 18,000 shares in the Vanguard REIT Exchange Traded Fund. (REIT stands for Real Estate Investment Trust.) In turn, this fund in has nearly $300 million invested in the Corrections Corporation of America and more than $200 million invested in the GEO Group. 

This wouldn't be the first time the University of Texas has been at the center of controversy over university ties to private prison companies. UT students, faculty, and alumni called out the McCombs School of Business in December over namesake Red McCombs' deal with CCA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to open the nation's largest family detention camp since Japanese internment. The family detention camp in Dilley, Texas, was leased to CCA and ICE by his real estate firm, Koontz McCombs.

Students, alumni and their supporters staged a sit-in at the off of the dean of the McCombs School of Busness demanding a meeting. About 50 UT faculty members also signed a letter to University President William Powers asking him to put pressue on McCombs to reconsider the deal. 

In December, news broke that McCombcs had sold his stake in the firm. 

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On Leap Day, Texas protesters to tell Wells Fargo to leap out of private prison investments

Tomorrow, I'll participate in an Austin protest at the Wells Fargo near the University of Texas as a part of a state-wide day of action urging the bank to divest from private prison corporations GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America.  Here's a description of the event:

"On this Leap Day, a coalition of immigrant rights, human rights, faith, and student organizations will hold a protest at Wells Fargo on 24th and Guadalupe in Austin in conjunction with a statewide day of action calling on Wells Fargo to divest its holdings in the for-profit private prison industry.  The private prison industry profits greatly from the detention of immigrants.  More than 33,000 immigrants are detained every day in the United States, destroying families and costing taxpayers more than $1.7 billion this year.

According to SEC filings, Wells Fargo currently holds over 4 million shares in GEO Group and 50,000 shares in Corrections Corporation of America, with a combined value of $120 million.  GEO and CCA are the world’s two largest private prison corporations. Wells Fargo, a recipient of billions of bailout dollars, is a major contributor to politicians who have championed the increased incarceration of immigrants. The protest will call on Wells Fargo to invest in our communities and divest from the private prison industry."

The Austin protest is part of a state-wide day of action that includes protests by Students United for the Dream Act in San Antonio and a protest of the 287(g) immigration enforcement program and the private prison industry in Houston.   Here is a list of times and locations:

Austin: 3:30-4:30pm, Wells Fargo, Guadalupe & 24th

San Antonio: 3:00-5:00pm 423 N New Braunfels Ave. 78202

Houston: 12:00-1:00pm Wells Fargo, Louisiana & Lamar St

An event is also being organized in Dallas later in the week, I'm told.  The protests are part of a national prison divesment campaign launched last year.  We'll post some pictures of the protests later in the week.

Austin protestors target Wells Fargo private prison investments

On Tuesday, I participated in an Austin protest against Wells Fargo's holdings in private prison corporations GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America.  The coalition of immigrant rights groups (including Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families) called on Wells Fargo to divest of their holdings in the for-profit private prison industry.

Nearly half of the more than 33,000 immigration detention beds in the United States are operated by private prison corporations, and the detention system will cost taxpayers more than $1.7 billion this year. Benefiting from this practice are companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, as well a companies like Wells Fargo, that have invested in the growth of the private prison industry.

For more on the Austin protests, see the Grassroots Leadership or Texans United for Families facebook pages.  And, for more photos and videos from other Wells Fargo protests around the country, check out the National Prison Divestment Campaign, coordinated by Enlace. 

Big Stories of 2011 - #2 - Resistance to Private Immigrant Detention Centers Grows

Over the next several days, Texas Prison Bid'ness will be highlighting the top five private prison stories of 2011, and looking forward to the new year.   Our #2 story is the growing resistance amongst immigrant rights organizations and media to the for-profit private detention system.

In October of 2010, NPR reported that through its membership in ALEC, private prison corporation Corrections Corporation of America was able to help draft model anti-immigrant legislation like Arizona's noxious SB 1070.  The story would be a precursor to a host of organizing efforts, research initiatives, and media campaigns by immigrant rights groups around the country to expose the private prison industry's role in immigration detention policy.  Here are some of the highlights:

1) In May, the Detention Watch Network (with the support of Grassroots Leadership, my organization) published data outlining that 47% of all immigration detention beds are operated by private prison corporations and that CCA and GEO Group have poured millions of dollars into federal lobbying expenditures over the last several years.

2) Enlace, an international coalition of worker and migrant organizations, launched a national prison divestment campaign with allies across the country.  The campaign got an immediate boost when Pershing Square head Bill Ackman dumped his company's stocks in the Corrections Corporation of America.  Since then, the movement has taken off with protests in front of GEO-investor Wells Fargo in around the country including here in Austin with actions taken by the Texans United for Families coalition.

3) Perhaps the most visually inspiring campaign has been the series of "Immigrants for Sale" videos produced by Cuentame and the Brave New Foundation.  This series highlights the role of the private prison industry in benefiting from and propelling the growth of immigration detention.  Check out the first video for an overview of what was to come:

 

Here's hoping for a 2012 filled with similar kinds of creative protests of the private prison industry.

 

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