City of Berkeley Commission to vote on Prison Divestment
September 14, 2015
BERKELEY, CALI. – The Peace and Justice Commission today will vote whether to support an ordinance encouraging the City of Berkeley to fully divest from the prison industry, including its investment in corporations like Wells Fargo that invest in the for-profit private prison industry.
The resolution was drafted by Commission members and Enlace, the convener of the national Prison Divestment Campaign, in response to the harmful impacts of private prison lobbying on Berkeley communities. The resolution notes, Alameda County residents who fall into ICE custody are often transferred to the Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield, and at the Adelanto Detention Facility, both of which are owned by GEO Group. Alameda County residents are often incarcerated in private prisons, and sentenced under laws lobbied for by the private prison industry. There are 16 private prisons, jails, and re-entry facilities operating in California today, with a combined capacity of over 7,000 beds.
Representatives from Afrikan Black Coalition, Immigrant Youth Coalition, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, and Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action will provide public testimony at the Commission meeting. The Peace and Justice Commission advises Berkeley City Council and the School Board on issues of peace and social justice. An approved prison divestment ordinance would be submitted by the Commission to Council for approval.
Yoel Haile, policy director at Afrikan Black Coalition, said, “As a statewide organization of Black youth in California, we categorically condemn the Prison Industrial Complex and all the ways in which it unjustly seeks to imprison our people and lock them out of lie opportunities. We condemn in the strongest terms all the different bodies and institutions that invest in the PIC and allow it to exist and thrive at the expense of Black communities and immigrant communities. At this stage of the Black Lives Matter movement, the PIC must and will be one of the movement’s targets and the ABC will do its part to see to it.”
Amanda Aguilar Shank, organizer at Enlace, said, “Berkeley can be one of the first wave of cities that are leading the way for divesting public funds from the private prison industry. While billions are going towards incarceration practices that do nothing to keep our communities safer, we are not investing enough in critical community infrastructure like education, health care, and support for our youth. We need to take our money out of incarceration, and invest in humanity.”
The Berkeley City ordinance follows a wave of recent activity against private prisons including divestment by Columbia University, and ongoing divestment consideration by the City of Portland.
Activists from across California led by the Black Alliance for a Just Immigration (BAJI) protest at Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield, CA in summer of 2015. Many Berkeley residents are transfered to Mesa Verde, owned by GEO Group, by ICE to be held for profit, sometimes for months or even years.