Afrikan Black Coalition denounces UC investment in private corrections companies

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On Monday, a universitywide group of black student organizations denounced the University of California’s investment in private corrections companies, calling for divestment and investment strategy reforms.

The Afrikan Black Coalition, or ABC, criticized the regents’ investment of $25 million in three private corrections companies — the GEO Group Inc., the Corrections Corporation of America and G4S, according to a press release issued by the organization Monday. In addition, the coalition reported the university’s $425 million investment in Wells Fargo, which the ABC alleges invests in private corrections companies as well.

The statement, authored by Anthony Williams, prison divestment communications director for the ABC, called the investment in the companies “ethically embarrassing,” saying that private prisons turn “Black, brown, and immigrant bodies into a profit under the guise of rehabilitation.”

Cameron Hopewell, managing director of investor relations for the Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, said that because the shares of CCA are beneficially owned, or purchased through a third-party broker, the CCA does not have information on the university’s investment. According to Hopewell, 99.5 percent of CCA shares are beneficially owned.

The UC Office of the President could not be immediately reached for comment.

Yoel Haile, a student in the campus’s Goldman School of Public Policy and political director of the ABC, said the coalition’s information was confirmed through email correspondence with the UC Office of the President’s investment staff.

Haile, representing the ABC, called for divestment from both Wells Fargo and the private corrections companies, for the university to reform its investment strategy and for the UC Office of the President to “issue a memorandum advising all the individual UC foundations” to follow suit.

In September 2014, the UC Task Force on Sustainable Investing advocated a “framework for sustainable investment,” which would consider environmental and social factors in all UC investments. The Office of the Chief Investment Officer’s policy mentions human rights among its “important core universal principles we keep in mind” and specifically mentions the “unlawful deprivation of human dignity.”

Haile said that in violation of the principle, the private corrections companies had violated human dignity.

Kevin Sabo, president of the UC Student Association, said that the university’s investment is “alarming and disheartening” and that he anticipates the UCSA will be reiterating its call for divestment from “exploitative parties,” such as private prisons.

The director of public relations at the CCA, Jonathan Burns, said in an email that the primary goal of divestment movements is to garner publicity for activist groups that are “seeking to fundraise off the attention they receive from a willing and often intellectually dishonest media” and that the CCA will continue to address the United States’ “serious” corrections challenges.

Kellie McElhaney, an adjunct associate professor at the campus’s Haas School of Business and faculty director for the school’s institute for business and social impact, said divestment may not necessarily be the best decision for parties looking to effect change.

“Once you divest from a company, you have no voice to change the company anymore,” McElhaney said.

According to McElhaney, “large and powerful” shareholders, such as the university, can file a shareholder resolution — in which they express dissatisfaction with certain practices of the company — in hopes that the company alters those practices.

Haile, who filed a Public Records Act request for information about the university’s investment in these companies, hopes to have more detailed information about its investment portfolio by the end of December.

Austin Weinstein covers academics and administration. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @aweinstein5.