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University of California Divests from Private Prison Industry

Donald Cohen

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In the Public Interest is happy to be kicking off 2016 with good news. Pushed by students and workers, the University of California has announced it will divest from private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group.

This is yet another win for criminal justice reform—Columbia University divested from CCA last summer. The private corrections industry, which makes more profit when more people are in the system, is an obstacle to the changes many of us want to see.

The industry doesn’t want change. An executive with GEO Group, the second largest private prison operator in the U.S., recently boasted that the country would continue to “attract” crime. He shared the “good news” to investors: “The reality is, we are a very affluent country, we have loose borders and we have a bad education system.”
Private prison companies claim to do a better job more cheaply, but too often they cut corners to turn a profit. They’ve left three decades of deadly riots, prisoner deaths, lawsuits, accidental releases and high correctional officer turnover in their wake.

And they stand in the way of meaningful reform. For example, for-profit companies operate almost two-thirds of the prisoner beds in the country’s immigration detention system, which has ballooned in the past two decades. Recent analysis by the Center for American Progress shows that between 2004 and 2014, CCA and GEO Group spent millions of dollars on lobbying, which opened the door for these companies to influence immigrant detention legislation.

No one should profit off of putting people behind bars. That profit is wasted money that should be spent on improving conditions inside and outside prisons, rather than on covering up the symptoms of a broken system.

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