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'People Power Beats Corporate Greed': After Years of Pressure, JPMorgan Agrees to Divest from Private Prisons

"People power prevailed over #BackersofHate—there's no overstating the importance of organizing."

Dozens of New Yorkers assembled outside JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon's home last summer, demanding that his bank divest from private prisons which run immigrant detention centers. (Photo: @altochulo/Twitter)

Civil and immigrant rights groups celebrated a victory Tuesday after JPMorgan Chase announced it was finally heeding their calls to end its financing of private for-profit prisons.

Make the Road NY, the Center for Popular Democracy, and New York Communities for Change were among the organizations credited with pressuring the bank to stop bankrolling CoreCivic and GEO Group, the nation's largest private prison operators.

"Once again, people power beats corporate greed," Make the Road tweeted.

"Today we are delighted to hear that JPMorgan Chase has decided to listen to our communities and end its harmful practice of financially backing private prisons and immigrant detention centers," said Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy. "This is an incredible victory for immigrant communities and for our society as a whole."

Elizabeth Chavez, a member of Make the Road New York, applauded JPMorgan's decision but stressed that her organization's work is not done.

"Immigrants and trans women like me have stood up to JPMorgan Chase for bankrolling private immigrant detention companies because it's people like us who face abuse and violence in their cages every day," said Chavez. "And we will continue to work to put the private prison industry out of business as we fight for respect and dignity for every member of our community."

About two-thirds of immigrants in U.S. custody are being held in privately-operated detention centers, according to Reuters. GEO Group and CoreCivic secured contracts to detain immigrants and run prisons holding about 10 percent of U.S. inmates thanks in part to loans and bonds brokered by JPMorgan Chase and other big banks in recent years.

Helping to fund the companies' prison operations has proven lucrative for banks including JPMorgan as well as Bank of America and Wells Fargo. In 2018, banks raised $1.8 billion in debt from loans to the prison operators.

Under pressure, Wells Fargo announced it was "reducing its relationship" with the companies earlier this year.

Activists challenged JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon at the bank's last two annual meetings, and have demonstrated outside his home in New York—holding signs reading, "Jamie Dimon: Stop Bankrolling Oppression!" and denouncing the bank as a "backer of hate" in the rain last summer, and demanding that Dimon "break up with prisons" this past Valentine's Day.

Former New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon praised Make the Road NY and others for their campaigning, saying Dimon's decision offered "more evidence that organizing works" and calling on all banks to follow in JPMorgan's footsteps.

JPMorgan's decision was announced days after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) called for congressional hearings on banks' financing of private prisons.

"We're going to hold oversight hearings to make these banks accountable for investing in and making money off of the detention of immigrants," Ocasio Cortez said late last month. "Because it's wrong."

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