32 Faith Groups Reject Prison Privatization; UM Pension Board Votes to Divest

From the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (http://www.umc-gbcs.org):

Letters to governors call selling state prisons ‘tragic mistake’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society is included in a coalition of that urged states to reject a recent offer by the nation’s largest private prison company to buy and privatize state prisons.

Three letters sent to governors in every state said a recent offer by Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) to buy prisons currently run by state officials is a backdoor invitation to take on additional debt while increasing CCA’s profits and impeding the serious criminal-justice reforms needed to combat the nation’s mass-incarceration crisis.

The three letter came from 32 faith groups, including the General Board of Church & Society; the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and 26 other organizations; and the Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network.

The faith groups’ letter emphasizes a moral imperative exists in reducing incarceration through evidence-based alternatives to imprisonment and re-entry policies that ease the transition of prisoners back into society.

Endorsers include the United Church of Christ/Justice & Witness Ministries, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness.

Tragic mistake

The Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network letter argues that the principles of mercy, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation are largely absent from the private-prison industry.

Proposal is an invitation to fiscal irresponsibility, prisoner abuse and decreased public safety.

“Selling off prisons to CCA would be a tragic mistake for your state,” the ACLU’s letter reads.

“[CCA’s] proposal is an invitation to fiscal irresponsibility, prisoner abuse and decreased public safety. It should be promptly declined.”

The ACLU’s letter is also signed by organizations including the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, The Sentencing Project, the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

CCA offer

The letters respond to one sent last month by CCA to officials in 48 states announcing what it is calling a “corrections investment initiative.” CCA is offering to purchase prisons from states so long as they contain at least 1,000 beds. The state must agree to pay CCA to operate the prisons for at least 20 years and keep the prisons at least 90% full.

“It is unconscionable to line the pockets of private companies whose existence depends on the nation’s addiction to incarceration, a grave social crisis that exacts a huge toll on taxpayers while providing no public safety benefit and leaving a disproportionate number of people of color behind bars,” said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “In order to reduce corrections spending, we need to commit to the systemic reform of our criminal justice system.”

The United States imprisons far more people, both per capita and in absolute terms, than any other nation. Over the past four decades, imprisonment in the United States has increased explosively, spurred by criminal laws that impose steep sentences even for low-level, non-violent offenses and curtail opportunities for probation and parole.


The letters are available at:

Editor’s note: The United Methodist General Board of Pension & Health Benefits decided profiting from incarceration is incompatible with the denomination’s Social Principles. You can read more at “Pension board divests from private prisons.” (http://www.umc-gbcs.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=frLJK2PKLqF&b=4909851&ct=11578775&notoc=1)

The statement of the General Board of Pension & Health Benefits is available at GBPHB Board Approves Private Prison Investment Screen.

The General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) saluted the announcement of the denomination’s pension fund divestment from private-prison corporations and the establishment of a permanent screen on such investments. GBCS also issued a call for all organizations and institutions of conscience to divest from the private-prison industry. For more, go to “Private-prisons divestment praised” (Faith in Action, Jan. 9; http://www.umc-gbcs.org/site/apps/nlnet/content.aspx?c=frLJK2PKLqF&b=7937963&ct=11578759)

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