News: Could protest bring about change

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A protest against a global bank continues to take shape.

Glenn Fields, an advocate for returning citizens (men and women returning to regular society after time incarcerated), calls for people to boycott Wells Fargo Bank, because of its involvement with the prison pipeline.  Wells Fargo is the primary investor of The GEO Group, Inc., a Florida-based outfit founded in 1988 via an incorporation of Wackenhut Corrections Corporation which focuses on private prisons, detention centers, and mental health treatment.  The company’s Board of Directors changed the name to GEO in 2003. GEO has facilities in North America, Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom. In the United States, GEO’s private prison component accounted for 45 percent of its revenue in 2015.  Low, medium, and maximum prisons fall under the GEO umbrella, as well as immigration detention centers, minimum-security detention centers, and mental health and residential treatment facilities.

Fields’ disdain for GEO isn’t singular.  Injuries by inmates and staff caused during riots, poor treatment of residents at prisons and detention centers, and other inappropriate action at have led to several personal and class-action lawsuits being filed against the private prison behemoth.

In fact, GEO Group lost its contract to be in operation in the State of Mississippi because it’s Mississippi juvenile facility was a hotbed of inappropriate sexual misconduct between the staff and inmates. In addition to this, federal investigations of kickback and bribery schemes associated with nearly $1 billion in Mississippi state contracts for prisons and related services resulted in criminal prosecution of several public officials in the southern state. As part of the settlement of a 2012 class-action lawsuit, the largest in the nation, the juvenile facility, and two other GEO institutions in Mississippi was ordered closed.  In February 2017, the Mississippi State Attorney General announced a civil suit to recoup monies lost during this period of statewide corruption.

To many, GEO’s actions was the absolute clearest pipeline to prison, and with Wells Fargo Bank continuing to finance GEO, Fields and others believe Americans should put their monies in other financial institutions. GEO Group also holds a large number of shares of the Correctional Services Corporation.

President Barack Obama’s US Department of Justice announced in August 2016 their plan to phase out using private prisons to house BOP (Bureau of Prisons) inmates, and the US Department of Homeland Security is currently reviewing its contracts with several private immigration detention facilities.  Several officials close to the private prison industry aren’t dismayed by the federal government’s decision for two reasons: 1) Housing federal inmates is only an extremely small number to not definitively alter their profit margins, and 2) Under the new Trump Administration, it’s not been determined what direction it’ll go, but many believe conservatives in general have been for law and order and incarceration (having a contract with a private entity saves the government money it could use elsewhere).

Some advocates feel George C. Zoley’s, GEO Group, Inc. CEO, salary of $1,145,000, with a $1,334,498 is excessive. Zoley also has other compensations like stock options, that totals him at $5,734,949.

Presently, those incarcerated in the District of Columbia and sentenced to more than a year, more than likely will go to Rivers Corrections in North Carolina, a GEO Group owned and ran facility.

While Fields and company push for an all-out boycott, there are some area residents who support GEO and the private prison model.  Loudon County resident Victor Ames works in DC, and fully supports private prisons.

“I believe in law and order,” he said in an email, “and you can’t have law and order without a prison system.  This is America where anyone can make a living however they see fit, and private prisons is the way some people choose to make a dime.  With these private prisons, the federal government is able to is able to save money, and I’m all for that.”

Additionally, a DC resident remarked the problem isn’t with private prisons, but with criminals who are becoming even more sophisticated and advanced. “The smarter the criminal, the more diligent the facility needs to be,” the person said in part.

Below is a copy of Fields’ boycott letter in its entirety:

Dear Friends,

I am writing to encourage you to join the boycott of Wells Fargo because of its deep investments and engagement in the horrendous, racist, private prison system that is part of what sister Michelle Alexander calls the “New Jim Crow” (The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, revised edition, New York, The New Press, 2012). 

I have been heartened to learn that the United Methodist Church has severed its ties with Wells Fargo for this reason, and hope that many more faith-based organizations, like yours, will join in this movement.

Wells Fargo has invested over $100 million in the stock of GEO Corporation as well as significant amounts in the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).  GEO operates many private prisons throughout the country including Rivers Correctional Institution in Winston, North Carolina, where almost 1,000 DC residents are incarcerated.   Inmates who have been released from Rivers have told me many horror stories about conditions in this facility, such as having only one physician for over 1,300 inmates and virtually no programming to assist in re-entry after their sentences are completed.

I have joined the Criminal (In)justice Committee of Occupy DC to strengthen this boycott, and hope that you will share the attached information sheet with members of your organization. We ask that you withdraw any accounts you may have with Wells Fargo and sever all ties to this organization that is profiting from the mass incarceration of African-American and Latino men in the District of Columbia.

Thank you for your support.

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