Columbia to Divest from Private Prison Industry


Becoming the first college or university in the United States to make such a move, Columbia University announced it will be severing financial ties with the private prison industry.

A statement from a spokesperson for the university announced that trustees for the school had decided to divest from the companies and that the school would not be doing business with such companies again.

“This action occurs within the larger, ongoing discussion of the issue of mass incarceration that concerns citizens from across the ideological spectrum,” Columbia trustees said in a statement. “We are proud that many Columbia faculty and students will continue their scholarly examination and civic engagement of the underlying social issues that have led to and result from mass incarceration.”

As a result of the decision, the school, which has an endowment of around $9 billion, plans to sell its 220,000 shares of G4S, the largest private security firm in the world, in addition to its shares in the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the US.  The two firms run prisons, detention centers, and militarized borders.

It is not known how much was invested in the two companies, writes Wilfred Chan for CNN.

The idea began when a group of students at the university, referred to as Columbia Prison Divest, a subcommittee of Students Against Mass Incarceration, found out about the school’s investments in the two firms in 2014.  The group held a number of protests, suggesting that such a school should not invest in a “racist, violent system.”

“The private prison model is hinged on maximizing incarceration to generate profit — they’re incentivized by convicting, sentencing, and keeping people in prison for longer and longer times,” Dunni Oduyemi, a 20-year-old organizer, told CNN.  “We don’t think about how the privileges and resources students get access to are premised upon violence done to people by virtue of their race, class, or citizenship status.”

A sit-in and teach-in was staged by the group in April, lasting almost five hours in an effort to bring light to the issue and place pressure on University President Lee Bollinger bring the idea of divestment to the board of trustees. As a result, Bollinger sent an email in May to the Columbia community in support of the idea of divestment, writes Teo Armus for The Columbia Spectator.

According to Tyler Kingkade for The Huffington Post, law professor Jeff Gordon, who is also chair of an advisory committee, said the group is currently considering divesting from fossil fuel companies in a stand against global warming.