While it may be profitable in the short term, investing in for-profit prisons means investing in an unethical and unsustainable model of modern-day slavery.
For-profit prisons are institutions designed to prey on vulnerable people; however, it is not just a myriad of local and federal policy that perpetuates the existence of private prisons. Investors are able to fund this aspect of the prison industrial complex in America through purchasing stocks from CoreCivic or GEO Group, companies that manage and maintain private prisons.
What’s wrong with private prisons?
Private prisons operate with a profit motive that incentivizes keeping costs low at the expense of the incarcerated people. There is no ethical way to run a prison while prioritizing economic efficiency. By striving for a return on investment, private prisons have to cut costs, usually to the detriment of the incarcerated people. By overcrowding prisons, these corporations can distribute the cost of maintaining the facility (lights, cleaning, outdoor work) among more people, leading to a lower cost per incarcerated person to operate the facility. Private prisons may also cut back on educational or recreational programs, quality of furnishing, quality of building materials, and more. In addition, some private prisons sell the labor of the people incarcerated there without fairly compensating them. In California, many prisoners are paid dollars a day to work as firefighters with very little chance of becoming a firefighter outside of prison due to many counties’ strict background checks. Private prisons do not serve to better society or rehabilitate incarcerated people. They exist to prey off of a social problem we as a society have let exist for too long.
Retributive justice, a narrative pushed by both Democrats and Republicans, is the idea that people need to suffer for their crimes. When a corporation is making a profit off of mass incarceration, there is no financial incentive for them to educate or care for their incarcerated populations. High recidivism rates benefit the corporation, as they know they have a product that will last.
What can we do?
Divesting from the prison industrial complex is a daunting but necessary task. Not buying stock in CoreCivic or GEO Group is the minimum we can do. We must also challenge ourselves to support companies that employ formerly incarcerated people and boycott companies that abuse prison labor to drive down their prices. When we can afford to, voting with our wallet is critical to funding the changes we want to see in our society.
For more information about how you can work with Invested Interests to divest from the prison industrial complex, check out our human rights and diversity portfolio.