Just say no to investing in for-profit incarceration

DETROIT – The Mission Coordination Committee has recommended that publicly traded corporations that directly manage or operate for-profit prisons, jails or detention centers be added to the list of companies from which the General Assembly urges divestment or proscription of investment ownership.

Bill Somplatsky–Jarman, the staff resource to the Mission Responsibility Through Investing committee (MRTI), explained that the 2003 GA received a comprehensive study on for-profit prisons recommending they be abolished.  “It should be up to society to address the criminal justice matter,” he said.

He said the for-profit system “leads to a perverse incentive to incarcerate  more persons.”  When any prison drops under a predetermined number of inmates, “the state in on the hook” to pay for the empty beds, he said.

In response to a question, he explained that, at present, two corporations would potentially be impacted by this action:  Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, Inc., a private corrections detention and mental health treatment provider.  The denomination’s entities have never directly invested in either these corporation, but it did come to MRTI’s attention that one of the finance account managers had invested in GEO, he said.

James Tarr, commissioner from Yellowstone Presbytery, said his state had one state prison and two for-profit prisons.  “They are adjacent to reservations,” he said. “They do provide rehabilitation services. These institutions are providing a public service. They are accredited and heavily supervised by state official.  They fulfill all the standards of the state system.”

However, Ben Keller, of Great Rivers Presbytery, reminded the commissioners of our national history.  “The idea that we are profiting over human misery, profiting over someone’s incarceration: we’ve done that before. We call it slavery.”

The proposal was approved by a vote of 56-15.  The committee’s recommendation will go to the whole assembly for approval later in the week.