Activists Take On Prison Industrial Complex

11 mins read

Activists Take On Prison Industrial Complex

“Regions Bank Of Alabama Turns Its Back On CoreCivic”

Morgan Simon’s article in inspired us to explore how strategic activism works. How did community organizers and activists bring about change in the Prison Industrial Complex?

How did activists tackle this complex that serves the interests of corporations, investors and politicians at the expense of the Black community? What impact will it have on voter disenfranchisement? How could this impact prison reform in other states? What lessons does this David & Goliath story offer other activists?

Advocating for prison reform

African American are 25% of Alabama’s population, but represent 50% of the prison inmates. 6% of African American voters in Alabama are disenfranchised as the state strips those with felony convictions of their voting rights. “African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men.” – The Sentencing Project.

The first step in bringing about change is to understand the players involved, how they gain from the status quo and the people who might be persuaded to change for the social good. Heather Booth, a political strategist and founder of the Midwest Academy refers to this as ‘Power Mapping’ in her free online video course.

Relationship maps show the battlefield

DemLabs created this relationship map of the Prison Industrial Complex using Kumu, a free app. The map visually displays the different players in the ecosystem including prison operators, investors, CEOs, politicians, lobbyists, activists, prison reform and voting right advocates. Lines show the relationships between players in the Prison Industrial Complex. Clicking on any icon or link reveals the underlying details. Kumu maps are easily updated with new information and can be freely shared on social media with a link “” or embedded into a web site with one line of code:
< iframe src=”” width=”1024″ height=”576″ frameborder=”0″>

When in doubt, follow the money. Relationship maps visually represent who is doing what to whom and how the money flows in the system. This makes it easier to identify where moral social pressure for reform might be applied.

Map the Prison Industrial Complex to see how to advocate for prison reform.

Points of influence

Core Civic relies on public and private funding to build and operate its mega prisons and detention centers. Low cost financing is essential to its profitability. Persuading banks to not fund prisons that harmed the community was a strategic move by a group of activist groups including Black Lives Matter BirminghamMomsRisingFaith And Works and the Alabama Appleseed Center For Law & Justice. Kudos to Region Bank for doing the right thing.

The first major push encouraged banks to end their relationships with private prisons. It was led by members of the Families Belong Together Corporate Accountability CommitteeCandide Group/Real Money Moves, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), Little SisMake the Road NYMoms, and others. In the wake of that activism there was a mass exodus of banks from the private prison sector — JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, SunTrust, and Barclays. Fifth Third Bank and PNC all committed to end ties when current contracts expire. This work was built on decades of opposition, but hit most powerfully in 2018-2019.

Alabama Students Against Prisons (ASAP) targeted Regions Bank, inviting groups like BLM and other Alabama groups to join. Two major factors were overall critique of the prison sector and local opposition to the CoreCivic contract. Local groups continue to fight the project with national support, despite the governor signing the CoreCivic contract.

Regions Bank does the right thing

“Birmingham-headquartered Regions Bank on Saturday confirmed it will not provide financing to CoreCivic to build two men’s prisons to be leased by the State of Alabama”, commented Regions spokesperson Jeremy King on the company’s contractual relationship with CoreCivic, in a statement to Yellowhammer News,To be clear, Regions Bank is 100% committed to creating more inclusive prosperity and advancing racial equity,” King concluded. “This past Tuesday, Jan. 26, we met with the Black Lives Matter Birmingham Chapter and other organizations to receive feedback on the issue of private prisons. We listened closely to concerns that were shared, and we appreciate the candid feedback we received.” – YellowHammer News

“This is a historic announcement for many reasons. Over the course of 2019, there was a massive exodus of mainstream banks committed to ending their relationships with the private prison industry. But this is the first time a bank has explicitly named CoreCivic, and the first time a bank explicitly framed its decision on moral grounds, highlighting the influence of Black Lives Matter Birmingham, which is part of the larger global network recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.” – Morgan Simon, Forbes

Alabama prisons need reform

Alabama sets the record for imprisoning Black people.

Prison Policy Initiative

Alabama is in a league of its own when it comes to imprisoning Black men. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Alabama has the highest rate in America. Sad.

Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men." - The Sentencing Project

The Sentencing Project

Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men.” – The Sentencing Project

Corporate hypocrisy
– How can a firm like Vanguard founded on principles like like “Every person can make a difference” (John Bogle); “In business, if you do the right thing, you win” (Bill McNabb) degenerate into “No imposing morals” by current CEO Tim Buckley?
– How does Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock and makes $25m annually preach “the responsibility of the corporate world to address pressing social and economic issues”, also profit from funding private prisons that mistreat its inmates?
– What corporate responsibility do firms like Walmart, Dairy Queen and GEICO have in using prison labor that is paid under $2/hour?

Why Private Prisons are so bad

“Media coverage of the family separation crisis has highlighted the abuses perpetrated by private prisons, and the Department of Justice itself has noted that private prisons are more dangerous for both inmates and guards than government run facilities. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Over 70% of immigrant detainees are held in privately owned facilities and private prisons receive over $1B a year in contracts from ICE – that’s almost $2.8M a day of taxpayer money!

What Do Big Banks Have to Do With Private Prisons,” explains how GEO Group and CoreCivic have a long history of profiting from mass incarceration: they make money when beds are filled, justly or unjustly. Together they’ve spent a combined $25M on lobbying over the past three decades. Disclosures show they’ve lobbied on a number of bills related to funding for ICE enforcement over the years. GEO Group and CoreCivic say that they don’t lobby on legislation or policies that would affect the basis for or length of incarceration or detention, but according to the Justice Policy Institute, both companies have served on task forces of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has written and promoted model legislation focused on mandatory minimums sentences, three strikes laws, and “truth in sentencing” legislation.” – Real Money Moves

What you can do to help

Here are some practical steps you can take from Real Money Moves:

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: How To Leave Your Big Name Bank
How To Invest In The Stock Market Without Selling Your Soul
Stop Giving Your Money To The Bank: Save Smarter And Change The World, Too
How To Invest In The Stock Market Without Selling Your Soul
How To Retire in Style and Build a REAL Legacy

Advocating for change? Read “Rules For Radicals“.
Think strategically. Map the battlefield with a relationship map.


Image credit: Pixabay
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