ASUC votes to divest from companies supporting ‘prison-industrial complex’

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The ASUC passed a bill to divest from companies that benefit from prison labor at its meeting Wednesday night.

By passing the bill, SB 100, the ASUC will be divesting just under $130,000 of its own funds and requesting that the UC Regents do the same. The bill will also establish a committee to ensure that ASUC funds are not invested in fossil fuel companies or companies that profit from the so-called “prison-industrial complex.”

At the meeting the authors of the bill described the “prison-industrial complex” as “increased spending on imprisonment, regardless of actual need” and drew examples to the exponential growth of prisons and their privatization.

The divestment was prompted by the high incarceration rate of people of color, particularly black men, who, according to the bill, are incarcerated at a rate of 5,525 per 100,000 individuals  — notably larger than that of whites.

“(What) makes it relevant to the campus community is (our society is) spending more on prisons than on students,” said CalSERVE Senator and bill co-author Klein Lieu. “That’s the whole impetus behind this bill — (our society is) not investing in students enough.”

Around 70 students from CalSERVE, along with members of the Latino and African American student communities, came out in support of the bill at a rally earlier that day on Upper Sproul Plaza.

Leaders of the rally implored the ASUC to divest funds from companies benefiting from prison labor and led demonstrators, who wore orange T-shirts with a prison number on the back and rope chains around their ankles, in chants including, “Education not exploitation, education not incarceration.”

“This bill seeks to address the crisis of priorities in our state that says building prisons is more important than educating our citizens,” said CalSERVE party chair Salih Muhammad, who presented at the meeting as well as led the rally. “The impact of the prison-industrial complex is not limited to people of color. However, the current policies and practices of policing in our society disproportionately incarcerate people of color.”

The ASUC meeting was heavily attended, overflowing with concerned students who snapped their fingers in agreement throughout the discussion of the bill.

Student Action Senator Tom Seung Kun Lee, the only senator to vote against the bill, voiced concerns that it would financially harm the ASUC.

“When you are a leader of an entity like a government that strives to provide the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, you have to weigh the benefits and costs of any action or decision from a utilitarian view,” Lee said after the meeting in an email. “In this case, I perceived that the money we get from the said investment provides more benefit than cost to the students.”

CalSERVE Senator Nolan Pack addressed these concerns, saying that professionals who handle ASUC funds are competent and can easily work within the restrictions of the bill.

“Because our asset managers are experts, they make the decisions on where to move the money to maximize returns, taking into account the restrictions,” Pack said in an email after the meeting. “They are more than capable of working with our restrictions to successfully invest with no significant impact on returns.”

The bill, which lists several companies, places particular emphasis on divesting from the companies 3M and State Street, which according to the bill, “maintain the most direct connection to prison labor.”

3M, an office supply company, was highlighted in the legislation as especially bad because its products are produced with prison labor, according to the bill.

State Street was spotlighted for its large holdings in Corrections Corporation in America — a company that privatizes and manages prisons, as was noted in the bill.

“We hope that UC Berkeley leads the charge in this and that this gets replicated in other universities across California,” Lieu said. “We’re hoping with enough universities on board, UCSA takes this on and brings it to the regents.”



Ally Rondoni is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected].