NEW YORK, NY – Responding to 16 months of organizing led by Columbia Prison Divest and supported by the national Prison Divestment Campaign, the Columbia University Board of Trustees decided yesterday to divest from prisons. The student and national campaigns demand and organize for prison divestment because of the active role private prisons play in lobbying to criminalize communities of color and immigrants. Columbia will be the first university in the country to divest its endowment from the private prison industry.
For-Profit Prison Industry leaders, the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) together with the Million Shares Club (major investors owning over one million shares combined of CCA and GEO stock) have played an outsized role in lobbying for racist laws that target people of color and immigrants for incarceration, and expand the police state in poor communities.
"This incredible victory by Columbia students is a victory that says Black, Brown, and immigrant lives will not be bought and sold by educational institutions. This is a victory for all of us in the fight to decriminalize our lives and our communities, to end immigrant detention, and to end private prisons," said Daniel Carrillo, Executive Director of Enlace, the convener of the National Prison Divestment Campaign.
The historic announcement by Columbia is a crest in the wave of the larger prison divestment movement. In May, the New York State United Teachers Representative Assembly (NYSUT RA) adopted a resolution to investigate current pension investments in prisons and to move immediately to divest from prisons. In December 2014, the City of Portland adopted the first city Socially Responsible Investments policy that will allow for city divestment from the Million Shares Club in direct response to the demands of family and friends of immigrants detained at a GEO Group facility. Students from across the United States will gather this summer at the 2nd Annual Prison Divestment Youth Retreat to continue building the movement to end the prison industry and pressure other universities to divest.
On June 22, Columbia Prison Divest issued this statement on their Facebook page, "We hope this victory opens doors to more campaigns, to more organizing, to more victories. This is not the end. This is a beginning. We want to see more schools divest. We want to see Columbia have to continue to respond to the pressure of students and members of the West Harlem community who will not stand for the university’s extensive and active participation in systems of racist, classist criminalization and punishment."
Cecilia Cortez, proponent of the NYSUT RA resolution and United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Chapter Leader, said “We will not rest until every single public institution divests from the prison industrial complex. One by one they will divest and we will win.”
The Prison Divestment Campaign is a collaboration of immigrant rights, criminal justice, faith, labor, lgbtq, students and worker centers working together to end the prison industry, deportations, and detention, and to demand a reinvestment in humanity.