By Kirsten Bokenkamp
Senior Communications Strategist
The private prison industry has close connections with both federal and state lawmakers and spends billions of dollars to create laws that put more people in jail and keep them there longer. In short, the private prison industry makes tons of money while acting as a barrier to meaningful criminal law reform.
Through advocacy, public education, lobbying, and legal work, groups like the ACLU of TX fight against this injustice all the time. But there is another, extremely powerful way to fight the behemoth that is the private prison industry. Divest. That is exactly what the United Methodist Church (UMC) did last week, and we applaud them for it.
Before divesting, UMC held about $736,000 in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and $215,500 in GEO Group, two of the largest private prison corporations in the world. These international jail keepers have combined annual revenues of more than $300 billion and last year alone, CCA and GEO executives raked in more than $3 million each.
A few months ago, the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society started a petition on change.org that called on the church to immediately divest all of its interests in private prison corporations and instead to invest in organizations that help prisoners reenter society. According to the letter, UMC members and signatories to the petition recognize the downfalls of private prisons, including discrimination, driving anti-immigrant legislation, and the multiple cases of abuses in their facilities. They believe that profiting from private prisons and owning stock in private prison corporations is incompatible with biblical teaching.
UMC’s divestment is a major step against the private prison industry in our country, and one that should be celebrated. In rough economic times, doing the right thing can sometimes seem close to impossible – but UMC has reminded us profit shouldn’t come at the expense of compassion, respect, and justice.