On March 5, US banking firm JP Morgan Chase and Co announced its decision to divest from lending to operators of private prisons and detention centers in the country. Activist groups who have been campaigning on the issue celebrated victory in the aftermath of the announcement.
A spokesperson of JP Morgan told Reuters, “We will no longer bank the private prison industry”. The decision, he said, was a result of the bank’s ongoing evaluations of the costs and benefits of serving different industries.
Common Dreams reported that civil rights groups, like Make the Road NY, the Center for Popular Democracy and New York Communities for Change, were among the organizations credited with pressuring JP Morgan Chase and Co to stop bankrolling CoreCivic and GEO Group, the country’s largest private prison operators.
According to a Forbes report, the GEO Group and CoreCivic have a long history of profiting from mass incarceration, making money when beds are filled, justly or unjustly. These groups have reportedly spent USD 25 million on lobbying over the past three decades to push for harsher criminal justice and immigration laws. Also, “to maximize profits, the private prison industry often has been known to cut back on staff training and medical care, while spending millions lobbying governments to keep their prisons filled”.
Earlier, more than 85 organizations, including the National Domestic Workers Alliance, MomsRising, Presente.org, MoveOn, In The Public Interest, Little Sis, Color of Change, Make the Road New York, AVAAZ, ACRE, Enlace, the Center for Popular Democracy, Freedom Cities, ROC United and Candide Group, formed a coalition called Families Belong Together to urge Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase to stop financing GEO Group and CoreCivic.
After the announcement by the bank, Make the Road NY tweeted, “This is huge and follows years of our members and allies campaigning hard against #BackersOfHate. Once again, people power beats corporate greed.”
On March 5, Ana Maria Archila Gualy, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, said, “Today we are delighted to hear that JP Morgan Chase has decided to listen to our communities and end its harmful practice of financially backing private prisons and immigrant detention centers. This is an incredible victory for immigrant communities and for our society as a whole.”
“The country has seen the images of humans in cages and heard the cries of children begging to be reunited with their parents. Our immigration enforcement system is cruel and inhumane. Providing financial backing to this industry is not morally defensible,” she added.
On August 2, 2018, the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit group working to reduce incarceration in the US, released a study report which said that private prisons in the US incarcerated 128,063 people in 2016, representing 8.5% of the total state and federal prison population. Since 2000, the number of people housed in private prisons has increased by 47%.
In the last week of August 2018, prisoners in around 17 states in the US went on strike against the use of prisoners as slave labor – which is a multi-billion dollar industry serving private profits, as well as US military production. It has been reported that with 2.3 million people in jail – the highest number in any country – the US has a quarter of all the imprisoned people in the world while having only 5% of the world’s total population.