“There are hundreds of companies involved in this.”
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is releasing a new Web application this week designed to expose companies connected to the for-profit prison industry. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, with more than 2.4 million people currently behind bars. Dalit Baum, AFSC director of economic activism with the AFSC will be presenting the new digital platform called INVESTIGATE today at the annual Sustainable Responsible Impact Investments conference happening in Colorado Springs.
Baum says the new tool helps raise awareness about how wide ranging privatization is in the corrections industry which she says goes well beyond private prisons “about 8% of the facilities nationwide that are operated by a private company. 75% of these are operated by one of two companies, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group…together they make up something like $3.5 billion a year out of an $80 billion industry.” Baum points to other parts of the industry that are privatized, not just facility management “transportation services, video visitation services, phone services…all sorts of companies coming into the new market now of private probation, doing probation for the state for misdemeanors…people with traffic tickets who owe money who cannot pay it and then they have to pay this private company in order to supervise them over years and their debt just grows and grows over the years…There are hundreds of companies involved in this.”
Baum says the ultimate goal is not just divestment “this is just the tip of the iceberg, when we’re talking about an industry that includes 100s of companies and tens of billions of dollars, what this means is that many of these corporations have other business as well.” Baum points to 3M which makes scotch-brite and post-its but they also work with prison labor and provide electronic monitoring for people on house arrest “responsible investors can use their power as investors to influence corporate policy.” Pulling away from the main part of the industry that cannot be reformed and then there is using divestment as part of a more general corporate social responsibility campaign, to put public pressure on corporations to step away from that business and to change the way they are doing business.”
Baum says this huge industry also has political power and efforts to reform the industry are met by resistance by major political donors.