[Pnews] Columbia University Becomes First US University To Divest From Prisons

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jun 25 13:36:11 EDT 2015

*Columbia Becomes First U.S. University To Divest From Prisons



Wilfred Chan

Tuesday, June 24, 2015

Columbia University has become the first college in the United States to 
divest from private prison companies, following a student activist campaign.

The decision means the Ivy League school -- with boasts a roughly $9 
billion endowment -- will sell its roughly 220,000 shares in G4S, the 
world's largest private security firm, as well its shares in the 
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison 
company in the United states.

The campaign began in early 2014 when a small group of Columbia students 
discovered tuition money was being invested in the two firms, which run 
prisons and detention centers and militarized borders.

The group, called Columbia Prison Divest, launched protests and meetings 
with administrators where they argued it was wrong for the elite school 
to invest in a "racist, violent system."

"The private prison model is hinged on maximizing incarceration to 
generate profit -- they're incentivized by convicting, sentencing, and 
keeping people in prison for longer and longer times," Dunni Oduyemi, a 
20-year-old organizer, told CNN.

"We don't think about how the privileges and resources students get 
access to are premised upon violence done to people by virtue of their 
race, class, or citizenship status."

In an emailed statement, a Columbia spokesperson said the university's 
trustees had decided to divest from private prison companies and would 
refrain from investing in such companies again.

"This action occurs within the larger, ongoing discussion of the issue 
of mass incarceration that concerns citizens from across the ideological 
spectrum," the statement said. "The decision follows ... thoughtful 
analysis and deliberation by our faculty, students, and alumni."

The spokesperson would not confirm how much Columbia had invested in the 
two companies.

In 2007, Farallon, a company managing part of Yale University's 
endowment, also divested from CCA after a student campaign, though it 
did not rule out future investment in prison stock.

History of controversy

Oduyemi said activists targeted CCA for its "horrific" human rights 
record. A 2014 ACLU investigation [1] found abuse and neglect in CCA-run 
prisons where guards used "extreme isolation arbitrarily and abusively," 
exposed prisoners to contaminated water, and delayed medical care of 
inmates, causing "needless suffering."

Student activists also targeted G4S, a British firm, which has supplied 
[2] a prison in the West Bank and checkpoints in Palestinian 
territories. Until last year, the firm also had a contract to provide 
services [3] at U.S. detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay, according 
to the Financial Times. The firm still maintains patrols [4] along the 
U.S.-Mexico border.

South African prisoners have sued the company over claims they were 
tortured [5], according to the Guardian.

Nigel Fairbrass, a G4S spokesman, defended the company's conduct.

"We actively followed up with the South African government and have been 
presented with no evidence to substantiate the allegations," Fairbrass 
wrote in an email to CNN. "The prison was also returned to our 
operational control last year."

He added that a 17-month investigation [6] by the OECD's United Kingdom 
contact point had not found any human rights violations in G4S's 
operations in Israel -- and said the company would also not renew its 
contracts in Israel once contracts there expired over the next two years.

CCA did not immediately respond to CNN's calls and emailed requests for 
comment. CCA's website includes a statement committing to "respecting 
human rights."

Will divestment have an impact?

Oduyemi said G4S had been responsive to past divestment campaigns, and 
"that has been the only effective way of getting them to change the 
contracts they write."

But Fairbrass said Columbia's holdings of G4S stock, around 220,000 
shares, comprised just 0.015% of G4S' market cap, valued today at $4.35 

Similarly, CCA has a market cap of $4.01 billion. Both firms are highly 
profitable and continue to grow.

Alex Friedmann, the managing editor of Prison Legal News, a project of 
the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center, predicted the divestment 
would have little to no effect on companies' stock price or operations.

"I don't see divestment campaigns making a big dent," he told CNN. "They 
serve more as public education on private prisons, organizing tools, or 
as social commentary on what people believe is acceptable to be 
investing in."

"As long as prison companies have the bed space the government needs and 
wants, they will most likely stay in business."

Although Columbia is the first U.S. university to announce divestment 
from private prisons, similar campaigns are ongoing at other 
institutions, including Cornell, Brown, U.C. Berkeley, and UCLA.

"It seems to be a moment where people are making the connection between 
all the kinds of uprisings we're seeing right now — #BlackLivesMatter, 
mass incarceration, and university movements," said Oduyemi. "We all 
recognize how much work has to be done in the future."

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