The new trend at Universities now – aside from throwing temper tantrums, and worrying about your fellow student’s hairstyle – is petitioning for your college to divest from stuff. It’s a fun new way to stick it to the man!
From an open letter to the administration from Yale,
“We find the practice of investing in the private prison industry to be morally incompatible with Yale’s mission. We therefore demand … that the Yale Corporation immediately divest from the for-profit prison industry, publicly denounce the for-profit prison industry and affirmatively state that it will not invest in the for-profit prison industry in the future.”
The other schools followed similar lines of thinking. Princeton groups state that imprisonment for profit is immoral and against the social justice stances that groups such as DREAM Team, the Muslim Advocates for Social Justice and Individual Dignity, the Alliance for Jewish Progressives, the Black Justice League, the Princeton University Latinx Perspectives Organization and the Princeton College Democrats, stand for.
Stanford’s students have demanded that Wells Fargo, the nation’s third largest bank, be kicked off the campus for their participation in funding prisons. The students claim Wells Fargo “has perpetuated prison privatization and the disproportionate and unjust incarceration of Black, Brown, Indigenous, poor, and undocumented people.”
The bank, however, doesn’t even hold shares in any of the corporations listed by students that are in the business of private prisons. “Wells Fargo does not hold shares in either the GEO Group or Corrections Corporation of America,” said Ruben Pulido, a Wells Fargo spokesman.
The students have declared that if nothing is done, they’re willing to take it further, be it sit-ins, or protests, which are now a dime a dozen today.
While private prison vs. public prison pros and cons can be debated, the students goals seem a bit short sighted. Jonathan Burns, spokesperson at Corrections Corporation of America, voiced concerns that the protestors seem to have overlooked. “It’s unfortunate that activists would advocate against those benefits without themselves providing any solutions to the serious challenges our corrections systems face,” said Burns. “Overcrowding and skyrocketing costs aren’t solved with politics and posturing.”
Whoever the students are looking out for, it’s not the prisoners. Overcrowding can easily become a serious problem, and it’s one of the reasons the government began contracting out prisons in the first place. It should also be noted that private prisons tend to have a higher standard of living for inmates than public prisons, with 28% more drug treatment programs, than public prisons 14%. Education enrollment is also higher in private prisons.
While prison is still no Disneyland, and our criminal justice system could do with a good deal of reforming, attempting to close down prisons, or defunding them helps no one. So far, the argument seems to be that profits off of prisoners is bad. Profits aren’t bad, but prisoners are, and making it harder on the government to house and feed them would only hurt the citizenry in the long run as it means more of our money being taken to solve the problem.
Not that it matters. These divestment trends rarely work, and only serve to make investors money. In the end, it’s really just a practice in virtue signaling.
This trend doesn’t stop at Universities, though. Bernie Sanders has made it a point that private contractors should be legally banned from the prison industry. “The profit motivation of private companies running prisons works at cross purposes with the goals of criminal justice,” says Sanders. “Criminal justice and public safety are without a doubt the responsibility of the citizens of our country, not private corporations. They should be carried out by those who answer to voters, not those who answer to investors.”
Sanders, as par for his course, doesn’t seem to have an answer on how to solve the overcrowding problem. His concern begins and ends with his ability to pander. Private prisons aren’t even on many people’s radar, but damn if it doesn’t look good politically for the old man to shout at the “for-profit” cloud.
Sanders doesn’t seem to understand that eliminating private prisons would free nearly 20% of prisoners overnight, or at least stuff as many as possible into already overcrowded public prisons. It would also strip US Marshals a ton of funding, since most of these guards for federal prisoners are hired through private contracts.
Like Sanders, the students don’t seem to have considered any of this, but when all three Universities are also too busy protesting for divestments in fossil fuels, and anyone who does business in, or with Israel, you probably don’t have the time to look into much.