AFT Resolution

FIGHTING THE INFLUENCE OF PRIVATE PRISONS AND PRIVATE EQUITY FIRMS ON MASS INCARCERATION AND IMMIGRANT DETENTION

WHEREAS, the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, both in terms of the number of individuals incarcerated and by percentage of population.[1] In 2016, there were roughly 2.2 million people in the country’s prisons and jails, and 1 in every 116 adults in the United States was incarcerated;[2] and

WHEREAS, mass incarceration disproportionately impacts communities of color, with people of color making up 30 percent of the U.S. population but making up 60 percent of the U.S. incarcerated population.[3] The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that 1 out of every 3 Black boys and 1 out of every 6 Latino boys can expect to go to prison in their lifetimes—compared with 1 out of every 17 white boys;[4] and

WHEREAS, immigrant families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border still face the risk of children being separated from their families and detained, despite the Trump administration announcing that this practice would no longer be official U.S. policy in July 2018;[5] and

WHEREAS, the American Federation of Teachers represents public employees who work in a variety of professions, including corrections officers and parole and probation officers who work in prisons and with the formerly incarcerated every day. These workers understand the criminal justice system and are strong advocates for fair and equal treatment for prison workers and incarcerated people. AFT public employees recognize that private prison companies put both public safety and public employee pensions at risk, and believe that privatizing our justice system threatens our democracy; and

WHEREAS, large, for-profit prison operators, like CoreCivic and the GEO Group; a number of smaller companies owned by private equity firms that provide corrections-related support services; and hedge funds, banks and other finance industry players that provide financing to these companies, together make billions of dollars annually when disproportionate numbers of Black and Latino people are sent to prison; and

WHEREAS, private prison companies and companies that provide outsourced services to correctional facilities actively contribute to the current system of mass incarceration through political expenditures, policy development and lobbying, and have an incentive to cut costs in order to maximize their profits. Some achieve this by lowering wages for workers, understaffing, skimping on training, and providing as few services as possible to incarcerated people, at times breaking the law, and at the expense of workers’ and inmates’ health, safety and lives; and

WHEREAS, the COVID-19 pandemic is further exposing how the business model of private prisons and corrections companies puts workers and incarcerated people at risk, with overcrowding, lack of ventilation, and failure to provide adequate sanitation and personal protective equipment for workers and inmates, contributing to rapidly increasing outbreaks in prisons across the country.[6] As of June 16, 2020, the five largest COVID-19 clusters in the United States were in correctional institutions;[7] and

WHEREAS, the pandemic-related recession we are now facing is straining state and local budgets, and states and municipalities may feel renewed pressure to privatize some or all aspects of correctional services in an attempt to address budget shortfalls, despite an abundance of data showing that privatizing prisons does not lower costs for governments;[8] and

WHEREAS, the AFT put out two reports in 2018 and 2019 exposing the publicly traded companies, hedge funds and private equity firms that profit from mass incarceration and immigrant detention, outlining the investment risks that public pension funds face when invested in these firms and encouraging public pension fund trustees to take action; and

WHEREAS, many U.S. public pension funds, including funds in which AFT members participate, are exposed to the private prison industry, through direct share ownership of private prison companies, investments in banks and hedge funds that provide funding to these companies, and/or investments in private equity firms that own companies that provide corrections-related services like prison telecom services, ankle monitoring, prison healthcare, and food and commissary services; and

WHEREAS, over the last two years, some AFT members have engaged with their pension funds on their investments in entities profiting from mass incarceration and immigrant detention, resulting in a number of pension funds divesting from private prisons, including the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the Illinois State Board of Investment, and the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will oppose privatization of public services, including prisons and adjacent correctional services; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will work with affiliates to ban private prisons and immigrant detention centers at the state and federal levels, including developing and supporting legislative efforts that prohibit private operation of correctional services; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will work with public pensions across the United States to inform trustees of the risks associated with private corrections investments and to work with them to engage with the companies and asset managers profiting from mass incarceration and immigrant detention to address investment risks; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will support increased federal aid to states and municipalities to address budget shortfalls, so that public correctional services have the funding they need to ensure the health, safety and civil rights of workers and incarcerated people; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will support legislation, such as the federal Stop Wall Street Looting Act, that increases transparency for private equity firms and curbs their worst abuses, and will work with affiliates to develop state-level legislation requiring greater transparency from private equity firms and other asset managers that profit from privatizing public services.

 

(2020)

Please note that a newer resolution, or portion of a resolution, may have superseded an earlier resolution on the same subject. As a result, with the exception of resolutions adopted at our most recent AFT convention, resolutions do not necessarily reflect current AFT policies.