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Activists call for divestment from the prison industry at the Columbia Prison Divest and Coalition Against Gentrification - CAGe's action on the World Leader's Forum at Columbia University on September 26th, 2014. (Photo: Danielle Fox/Columbia Prison Divest)

'Expose the Slaveholders': Activists Disrupt For-Profit Prison Corp. Meeting

Dream Defenders and other civil rights groups converge on GEO Group shareholder meeting

Nadia Prupis

As the for-profit prison corporation GEO Group held its annual shareholder meeting in Boca Raton, Florida on Wednesday, human rights organizations calling for an end to incarceration converged on the company's headquarters to demand accountability and divestment from the prison industry.

The prison-industrial complex "not only profits off the imprisonment of of America's most vulnerable, but also corrupts our system through draconian legislation and our education system," said one activist, Joshua McConnel, who joined the march organized by Dream Defenders, Prison Legal News, Grassroots Leadership, SEIU Florida, and other groups.

Taking up the call for other institutions to divest from the prison industry, McConnel continued, "My own university, the University of Central Florida... takes my tuition dollars and so many others and invests in companies just like GEO Group and CCA [Corrections Corporation of America]."

Documenting the action on Twitter, organizers made clear how they see GEO Group's role in the industry, adding #Slaveholders to numerous posts. The action itself was dubbed, "Expose the Slaveholders."

"Opportunities for Black and Brown communities have been intentionally thwarted through intergenerationally maintained oppression. What drives this? The same institution that has fueled this country since its birth—slavery," reads a blog post by the civil rights group Dream Defenders. "Through the proliferation of prisons for profit, the United States is a slaveholder, and private prisons are the cruel overseers who go through extreme means, including documented physical and sexual abuse, lobbying for increased mandatory minimums and fraudulent reporting, to maximize profit."

GEO Group is the country's second-largest for-profit prison operator. It owns Karnes County Detention Center in Texas, which holds immigrant families and is the site of an ongoing hunger strike by detained mothers, as well as Reeves County Detention Center, currently the subject of a Department of Justice investigation.

As Dream Defenders points out, GEO Group has been sued over a hundred times for human rights violations in the past 10 years, including sexual mistreatment of prisoners and drug smuggling in the facilities. The corporation also gives large donations to the Republican Governors Association.

The Washington Post also reported on Tuesday that GEO Group has close ties with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl).

"While Rubio was leading the House, GEO was awarded a state government contract for a $110 million prison soon after Rubio hired an economic consultant who had been a trustee for a GEO real estate trust," freelance journalist Michael Cohen wrote. "Over his career, Rubio has received nearly $40,000 in campaign donations from GEO, making him the Senate’s top career recipient of contributions from the company."

In a press release ahead of the march, organizers noted several key facts about mass incarceration in the U.S.:

  • The US has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners
  • 2.4 million people are incarcerated in the US. This is a 500% increase over the past 30 years
  • Black and Latino men make up more than 60% of the prison population, but only 15% of the male population in the US
  • One in 28 children have a parent behind bars
  • In 2013, 67% of all federal criminal convictions were for immigration-related crime
  • The US spent $80 Billion on incarceration in 2010 alone
  • The GEO Group and other prison profiteers spend millions lobbying politicians to keep it that way, because they are getting rich off leaving people locked in cages.

Wednesday's demonstration took place ahead of a two-day action next week to strategize for an end to criminalization, incarceration, and immigration enforcement.

The third annual We Want Freedom: Breaking the Chains & Transforming Communities session is organized by a coalition of human rights groups, many of which were present at Wednesday's action, and will take place May 3-4 in Boca Raton. "State and corporate repression has increased as a result" of recent protests against police brutality, the organizers wrote in a statement. "If you are a person of color or immigrant, police encounters either take your life or land you in prison. The police funneling of people of color into cages is a key tactic for the state and corporations for social control. But their dams will not stop this flow of righteous anger and visionary love."

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