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By Miriam Raftery

April 17, 2017 (San Diego)  –  The University of California has announced that it will halt its investments in private prison companies, removing $25 million in investments from Corrections Corporation of America, G4S, and GEO Group Inc., the Los Angeles Times reports.

The UC system becomes the first public education institution to end its holdings in private prisons. Columbia University, which is private, led the way last year as the first higher learning institute to sever its financial ties with private prison companies.

Last year,  the Obama administration announced a decision to stop using private prisons due to rampant abuses of prisoners and other serious problems, as ECM reported,  though the Trump administration later reversed that decision. 

The UC divestment decision follows pressure from the Afrikan Black Coalition. On its website, the group’s political director Yoel Haile called the decision “historic” adding, “Divesting $25 million is a good step towards shutting down private prisons by starving them of capital. This victory belongs to the masses of our people languishing behind America’s mass incarceration system.”

The private prison corporations have repeatedly defended their practices and insisted that they are accountable.  Pablo Pez, GEO Group’s vice president of corporate relations, told the L.A. times that criticisms are based on “politically motivated sources” to advance what he calls the “inaccurate notion that private prisons are somehow unaccountable.”

However CCA and GEO Group, two of the largest private prisons, have been sued for human rights abuses, including sexual assault, physical abuse, forced labor, and the refusal to provide medical care.

Use of private prisons by the federal government alone grew nearly 800 percent from 1980 to 2013; some states including California have also used private prisons, which also run immigration detention facilities.

According to a report by the Inspector General’s report, “disturbances in several l federal contract prisons resulted in extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a correctional officer.” That report analyzed 14 contract prisons and found they were worse than government-run prisons in most categories including higher rates of assaults by inmates, contraband seized, lockdowns and more. The report also found prisoners were thrown into solitary confinement without justification for extensive periods, a violation of federal rules.  Some inmates were even denied basic medical care.

California turned to private prisons when the state was under orders by a federal judge to ease prison overcrowding several years ago.

California still houses around 6,000 inmates in private prisons that are in business to make money off keeping people in prison. But that may soon change.

Assembly Bill 1320, a measure to end California’s reliance on private prisons is also advancing through the Legislature, passing the Assembly  Public Safety Committee earlier this month, News Review reports in Sacramento. If approved, the bill would end new contracts with private prisons next year and phase out all use of private prisons by the state over the next decade.

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