Green America’s mission is to build the green economy, one grounded in social justice and environmental sustainability. To do so, we promote responsible, sustainable economic actions, from supporting green businesses to helping individuals bank and invest with financial institutions that support people and the planet.
This summer, Green America joined a coalitional letter to five regional banks – Regions Financial Corporation, Citizens Financial Group, Pinnacle Financial Partners, First Tennessee Partners, and Synovus Bank – urging them to conduct human rights due diligence in relation to their financial ties to private prisons and immigrant detention centers. The letter came on the heels of eight major banks agreeing that they will not issue new loans to the private prison sector. In response to wide-spread pressure, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, SunTrust, JPMorgan Chase, BNP Paribas, Fifth Third Bancorp, Barclays Bank, and U.S. Bancorp all announced this year that they will be ending financing of prisons, specifically CoreCivic and GEO Group, the two largest U.S. private prison and immigrant detention companies.
Companies Profit from Prison & Detention Centers
GEO Group and CoreCivic, the largest private incarceration corporations involved in detention centers and immigration facilities, are contracted by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the US Marshals Service. While private prison companies make up about 10% of federal and state prisons, almost two-thirds of people detained by ICE are held in privately-funded facilities (mostly CoreCivic and the GEO Group).
These companies receive substantial profit from detention as the number of detainees increases. In order for them to maximize profits and decrease costs, they have even removed basic human needs, like access to soap and other hygiene products, while maximizing the number of asylum seekers in already overcrowded facilities. As an August 2019 report from the Center for American Progress documents, “In memos to their shareholders, both companies [GEO Group and CoreCivi] acknowledge that policies with the potential to reduce the U.S. detainee population constitute potential risk factors to their business model.”
In addition to over-crowding, the lack of basic needs, and family separation, there are a growing number of reports of other inhumane and cruel conditions, some of which are violations of the Human, Civil, and Political rights as outlined by the United Nations. There is now a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 55,000 people in ICE detention centers, alleging severe mistreatment. Already, twenty-four people have died in ICE facilities since Donald Trump became president.
How are Banks Involved?
Detention centers where asylum seekers and immigrants continue to be mistreated have largely been financed by major banks. These banks, and smaller ones, therefore have shared complicity in the human crisis that continues to unfold due to the banking and financial services they provided, totaling $2.6 billion in lines of credit and loans, to CoreCivic and the GEO Group. In return, banks have received millions of dollars in fees and interest. Some of these centers also benefit from the labor of prisoners and detainees who receive little to no benefits for their work.
Banks Change Policy, An Important First Step
As noted above, in response to organized campaigns, public outcry, and banks’ risk own assessments, more and more financial institutions are moving away from doing business with for-profit prisons and detention centers. These changes are certainly important steps. It is also important to understand that this “divestment” refers to future financing and banks will continue to fulfill commitments already underway for years to come and are still maintaining their holdings (stocks and bonds) in for-profit prisons.
Vote with Your Dollar
Many concerned investors and activists who want to see an end to ICE detention centers and for-profit prisons have taken action, such as protesting outside the branches of big bank and through social media.
Another way to take action is to use Green America’s resources to Get a Better Bank. Yes – there are banks and credit unions focused on community development that do not support for-profit prisons and detention centers. Vote with your dollar today and switch to a bank that supports people and the planet.
For more information on divestment from for-profit prisons and fossil fuels click here.
Individually and collectively, our economic actions make a difference every day and can bring us closer to the kind of world we need in which all communities are healthy and safe.