UC Divests From Private Prisons After Black Students Protest

The $30 million divestment isn’t going to cripple private prisons, but it marks a notable shift in ethical investment strategies.
(Photo: 'The Washington Post'/Getty Images)
Dec 28, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is TakePart's News Editor.

The University of California has sold $30 million of investments in private prison operators after black students across the nine-campus system voiced grievances over profiting from a criminal justice system that disproportionately imprisons minorities.

Following in the footsteps of Columbia University, which divested earlier this year, the prestigious public university system told The Washington Post in a statement that it makes sense for its sustainable investment strategy to sell investments in Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, and G4S. UC recently sold off nearly $200 million of holdings in coal and oil sand companies in response to environmental concerns.

The investment isn’t a huge chunk of the system’s $100 billion portfolio, but activists cheered the decision as a stand for human rights in the face of an increasingly powerful lobby. Earlier this year, the Post reported that private prisons rake in $3.3 billion in annual revenue, and the amount is growing.

Afrikan Black Coalition and black student unions across the state led protests and calls for reform.

“This victory belongs to the masses of our people languishing behind America’s mass incarceration regime,” said Yoel Haile, Afrikan Black Coalition’s political director, in a statement.

Among black men in their 30s, one in every 10 is in prison on any given day. In American prisons, about 40 percent of the population is black, yet only 12 percent of the national population is black.

Civil liberties and prisoner rights advocates have long criticized private prisons as havens for human rights abuses, saying they may promise savings through privatization but lack oversight.

Representatives of the companies the UC system divested from defended their work, telling the Post their facilities must, by contract, meet strict standards set by the government.

The attacks “rely on politically motivated sources to advance the inaccurate notion that private prisons are somehow unaccountable,” Pablo Paez, vice president of corporate relations for the Geo Group, told the newspaper. Geo Group operates 64 corrections facilities in the United States.