Action Alert: Demand Columbia Univ President Meet with Students about Prison Divestment

Earlier this week Columbia Prison Divest sent a letter to President Bollinger requesting a meeting. In order for the request to be successful, we need your help. Please send an email expressing your support for our request (from your Barnard or Columbia account if you are affiliated with the school). Below is a suggested email. Thank you again for all of your help. We can’t do this without you.

Title: In Support of Columbia Prison Divest’s Meeting Request


Hello President Bollinger,

I am writing you in support of Columbia Prison Divest Campaign’s request for a meeting with you. As I am sure you know, the students of Columbia Prison Divest are engaged in the process you have frequently made reference to through the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing. They have formally presented to the committee and are working with the ACSRI to conduct further research supporting their position on divestment from the private prison industry (specifically CCA, the GEO Group and G4S). Because I see a fundamental contradiction between investment in incarceration and what this university stands for, because this is a matter of what is just and for whom we demand justice, because this is a direct relationship between our privilege at Columbia and the denial of human dignity elsewhere, because Columbia’s profit from the suffering and disenfranchisement of people in drastically different circumstances than ours puts the prestige of this university in question, this is a matter that warrants more than just research, more than presentations behind closed doors. What has begun is a conversation about incarceration and profit at Columbia. Students and professors are having this conversation already and I believe that the president of our university ought to be engaged in it as well. In your Welcome Letter, you asserted your belief that “Columbia is ideally suited to reflect on and respond to the challenges of this new era” in which we must “fulfill our responsibilities as active, engaged citizens.” And here we are. I support Columbia Prison Divest’s request for a meeting sometime in the next two weeks (as your schedule permits) with two students from Columbia Prison Divest so that we–the Columbia community–can begin the part of this process that includes you.


(Your Name)


Columbia Prison Divest Week of Action

CPD logoDid you know that Columbia has at least $8 million invested in the private prison industry?Want to learn more about how you can get involved in Columbia Prison Divest and help us reach our goal of getting Columbia to divest from the CCA, G4S and the GEO group?

Want to learn more about mass incarceration, the prison-industrial complex and what you can do to stand up for real justice?

In solidarity with several campuses across the nation, join us Monday April 14th through Friday April 18th for a Columbia Prison Divest Week of Engagement, a demonstration that the students and community members of this campus will not stand for an industry that profits off of the commodification of human bodies and the destruction of vulnerable, marginalized communities. Through a series of events, performances, discussions, and interactive activities, we hope to teach and learn from each other about what divestment looks like, and what it could mean for putting an end to a fundamentally broken criminal justice system. This week will be in collaboration with a number of Columbia student groups, including Students Against Mass Incarceration (SAMI), AlterNATIVE Education, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), cIRCa, Radical College Undergraduates Not Tolerating Sexism (Radical CUNTS), LUCHA, Columbia Prison Reform & Education Project (PREP), Freedom School, O.G., and Potluck House.

NOTE: Times/ locations subject to change
Monday April 14th: Intro to CPD
* During the day, we’ll be tabling and handing out flyers, food + merch in Lerner and around the Sundial area- come talk with us about our campaign and what we’re asking from Columbia!
* Join us in the evening from 6-8pm in the Malcolm X Lounge for Unequal Opportunity to Miseducation, a conversation co-facilitated by Columbia Prison Reform & Education Project and AlterNATIVE Education, part of the intercollegiate A Native Education. Afterwards, come show your support for CPD by participating in our “We support divestment because…” photo project with friends and student groups.

Tuesday April 15th: The Construction of Mass Incarceration
* We’ll be tabling again in Lerner and handing out flyers, food + merch. Come by and talk with us about the history of the American prison system, mass incarceration in the U.S., and the movement to divest from private prisons.
* Join us in the evening from 7-10pm for “The House I Live In” Screening with Dr. Carl Hart facilitating a talk-back afterwards.

Wednesday April 16th: Questioning “Justice”
* During the day, CIRCA, the Intercultural Resource Center’s arts collective, will be featuring a selection of student art, music, and spoken word performances in response to the prompt “Questioning Justice” around the Sundial area.
* Join us in the evening from 7-9pm for a conversation about criminalization facilitated by LUCHA and Columbia University Students Against Mass Incarceration.

Thursday April 17th: Strategizing Alternatives, Making Connections
* Stop by Low during the day to learn more about CCA, G4S, and the GEO Group, and brainstorm alternatives to investing in the private prison industry through our interactive Money Wall.
* Come by Low at 3pm for a teach-in on maps, mass incarceration, and settler colonialism facilitated by Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine.
* Join us in the evening from 5-7pm in the Malcolm X Lounge for a discussion on Sexual Violence, Punishment, and Healing in the Age of Mass Incarceration facilitated by Radical C.U.N.T.S.

Friday April 18th: Moving Forward
* We’ll close the week on Ancel Plaza (in front of East Campus) from 2-5 pm. Have friends who want to know more about Columbia Prison Divest? Come by and chat with us! We’ll be providing informational flyers about our work and the work of other community groups across the city concerned about issues of mass incarceration. Later, we will host a speak-out/ cypher around the theme “Re-imagining Justice”
* Join us in the evening at Potluck House at 7pm for a kickback co-sponsored by O.G. where we will be sharing food, and ideas about what the fight against mass incarceration looks like moving forward.



Bill Gates: Divest from Private Prisons!

The Gates Foundation Trust has millions invested in GEO Group, the for-profit prison company with conditions so horrible that detainees are hunger striking at two of their facilities. Join Enlace, Presente.org & 25 other organizations in calling on Gates to dump investments in private prisons.

Sign the petition now! http://act.presente.org/sign/gatesdivestment/?source=presente_website

The Gates Foundation Trust has millions invested in for-profit prisons, and Bill Gates will not respond to community pressure to divest. On March 7, Enlace, Presente.org, and 25 other immigrant rights, criminal justice, and social justice organizations sent Bill Gates a letter demanding divestment from the unethical and inhumane GEO Group, whose immigrant detention facilities are notorious for prisoner abuses and waste of taxpayer dollars. Join us for a press conference of community organizations and Gates grantees who demand divestment by Gates from private prisons. Investors like the Gates Foundation Trust finance prisons companies that lobby for taxpayer money to pay for brutal immigration enforcement policies that fill private prisons with undeserving people who should be free to support their families. The Gates Foundation Trust is located less than 35 miles from GEO Group’s now-notorious immigrant detention center in Tacoma, where courageous detainees have been on hunger strike for over a month to protest the horrible conditions at the facility and deportations. The Gates Foundation Trust is financing exploitative labor conditions, inadequate food, and understaffing that occur at the Tacoma facility and other GEO Group facilities, as well as the anti-immigrant policies that lead detainees to languish there for months.


Peace Vigil at GEO’s Tacoma

On December 12th, activist groups gathered for a peace vigil to demand immediate immigration reform in front of the GEO Group-owned Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. The peaceful protest aimed to shed light on the currently broken immigration system and called on Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) to fix it by providing more paths to citizenship and ending deportations and the continued painful separation of families. The vigil was organized by the United Farm Workers (UFW) and UFW Foundation. Immigrant rights groups from Washington and Oregon were present, including the United Farm Workers, Washington New Sanctuary, One America, Causa, Faith groups from Bend, SEIU, and Enlace’s Private Prison Divestment Campaign.

The Northwest facility is owned and run by GEO Group and houses immigrants facing deportation from in and around the northwest as well as places as far away as Texas. Each day, GEO Group makes a profit based on the number of detainees held there each day; the crowded facility boasts 1,575 beds.

As upwards of 40 protesters huddled outside the cold prison gates, activists and onlookers were reminded of the motives behind for-profit businesses whose sole interests lie in the acquisition of assets over implementation of true justice. Pastor Diakonda Gurning reminded the crowd, “This building we are standing in front of: This is a corporation. It is not run by the government, but by a private industry. An industry that profits off of human imprisonment and misery. An industry that tears our families apart. An industry that labels human beings as “illegal.” 

Many individuals went on to share their personal stories, in both Spanish and English, of living in the U.S. as immigrants and having personal ties to family member and friends who have faced deportation. Powerful voices chimed in to share what they have done for immigration reform: one man went to law school to fight for immigrant rights; Adelaida Mendoza traveled cross-country to Washington D.C to deliver a Thanksgiving meal grown by immigrant farmworkers hands. The true dedication and effort put into growing, preparing and delivering the meal symbolized immigrants hard work providing food for the nation, highlighted their integration into American society/culture and sent an urgent message to Obama to do something to stop the separation of families and loved ones during this holiday season.

The 12th of December holds special significance to observers of Día de la virgen de Guadalupe. The vigil called attention to the separation of families. We hope that those detained behind GEO’s walls were able to hear our chants, stories, and prayers, to know that they were not forgotten on what should have been a day of celebration for all.

Another vigil was held outside the Detention Center yesterday for International Migrants Day. The vigil was organized by the Sound Alliance.



Major Investor Fully Divests From Prisons

Systematic Financial Management dumps private prison stock and ends its membership in the Million Shares Club.

Systematic Financial Management, an investment company that manages over $13 billion in investments for local governments, retirement funds, corporations, wealthy individuals and unions has fully divested from the for-profit prison industry, dumping over one million shares of stock in GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America.

Systematic joins the ranks of other U.S. institutions that have divested from the private prison industry including Allianz Asset Management, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, General Electric, and Pershing Square Capital Management among others.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO), which own the majority of the private prison market in the U.S., depend on the massive incarceration of immigrants and people of color to maintain financial viability. Both companies are heavily involved in lobbying Congress and federal agencies for policies and contracts that result in the inhumane incarceration of hundreds of thousands of harmless immigrants and people of color.

Systematic Financial Management divested 2,754,722 shares of CCA stock and 74,550 shares of GEO stock during the third quarter of this year.

We urge the other major investors in private prisons to divest their holdings as well.


The University of California Invests in Prisons

By Allison Kielhold, Enlace Intern


The University of California manages an impressive financial portfolio of over $78 billion in endowments, retirement, and cash assets, making it one of the largest endowment and retirement funds in the country.[i]   Regrettably, savings in the UC endowment and retirement funds are invested in corporations that invest in for-profit prisons.  As part of Enlace’s Private Prison Divestment Campaign we are calling on all of the UC campuses to get their money out of private prisons.

GEO Group (GEO) and Corrections Corporation America (CCA) are the largest for-profit prisons that are driving the mass incarceration of people of color in America. These two companies have successfully lobbied for policies that leave black and brown bodies behind bars, with our tax dollars paying private companies to keep them there.  The UC system is financially supporting these corporations since the UC Regents are invested in Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Lazard, Blackrock Inc., and Morgan Stanley, all of which own over two-thirds of CCA and GEO.[ii]  Effectively, when CCA and GEO increase earnings from incarcerating and deporting migrants, the UC takes a share of the profit. Continue reading


Janet Napolitano-Turning Over a New Leaf?

By Allison Kielhold, Enlace Intern

The University of California Regents have recently appointed former Director of Homeland Security (DHS), Janet Napolitano, as the new UC President. Her nomination was almost unanimous, opposed only by student regent Cinthia Flores who cited Napolitano’s role in implementing harsh immigration policies, such as Secure Communities, under the Obama administration as grounds for her opposition.

Secure Communities’ mission was to detain and deport criminals convicted of serious crimes by sharing data between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI.  Many local law enforcement officials wanted to opt out of the program because of the negative impact it had on communities, but were unable to do so. Because of this, Napolitano oversaw the program responsible for the deportation of around 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, 70% of whom had no criminal record or had committed minor crimes such as jaywalking[i] or driving without a license. In addition, victims of domestic violence were also put in removal proceedings after reporting abuse.[ii]   Napolitano also expanded the militarization of the border as there are now over 21,000 border patrol agents deployed along the U.S./Mexican Border, which is more than double the number of agents employed in 2004.[iii]

Private prisons like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group (GEO) are greatly benefiting from strict immigration policies and border militarization.  People charged with immigration offenses are being held in detention centers to await trial although, in the past, they were allowed to return to their communities before their hearing.  So many people are now in detention that the federal government can’t keep up; half of all detained immigrants are held in private detention centers. These private prisons are making a profit off of the detention of immigrants charged with non-violent crimes such as illegal re-entry which makes up 47% of all criminal immigration prosecutions.[iv] It also should be noted that the UC Regents have a financial portfolio of over $78 billion and are currently invested in corporations that support for-profit prisons.[v] Continue reading


A Visit to the Maquiladoras of Tijuana

On Saturday, July 27th, Enlace volunteers headed to Tijuana, Mexico to connect with allies across the border and learn about the maquiladoras, or sweatshops, that line the Mexican side of the border region.  The tour was sponsored by Colectivo Ollin Calli de Tijuana, San Diego Maquiladora Workers’ Solidarity Network, and the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras.  

The maquiladora industry in Tijuana is a symptom of the free trade agreements that unleashed multinational corporations on the border region, bringing harmful chemicals and disregard for human dignity with them.  Fueled by the many new arrivals to border towns who either failed to cross to the United States or were deported, nearly 900 factories line the border, employing more than 160,000 workers paid poverty wages.  


This public park now encloses the harmful chemicals that once leaked out of a maquiladora where the park now stands.

Recent changes in laws imposed by the new Peña Nieto administration have made life even more difficult for workers who attempt to unionize or assert their rights.  Their working conditions often include severe restrictions on drinking water and using the bathroom. Management punishes workers who attempt to organize by crafting work schedules that intentionally conflict with childcare or schooling, and firing women who become pregnant.  Furthermore, maquiladoras work with harmful chemicals and little to no protection for the workers or the environment around them—the unchecked chemicals and carcinogens are the best explanation for the border region experiencing the highest rates of cancer in North America.  Many otherwise rare diseases and birth defects have become common in Tijuana, and many of the chemicals causing them flow back into the United States, unheeded by the international boundary.

    Even so, many maquiladora workers continue to fight for their own rights and for social justice in their society.  Two maquiladora workers, one current and one former, joined us on the tour and offered their experiences. They told stories of being fired after being identified as an activist or simply asking about a union, and of unsafe conditions that went unchallenged for fear of being assigned hours conflicting with school.  By taking action to share their stories, these workers are fighting back, and adding to the success stories that keep workers and maquiladora activists hopeful. We were able to visit a place that embodied this hope at the site of a former maquiladora, which had continued to poison the Tijuana community with lead and other chemicals even after being shut down and abandoned.  Today, where the factory once stood, the chemicals and lead are trapped under the cement of a community park and can no longer terrorize the people of Tijuana.



Enlace Joins L.A. No More Jails to Protest Plans for New Women’s Prison

By Ruth Campbell, Enlace Intern

      On the morning of July 16th, when the L.A. County Board of Supervisors met to hear a proposal for a new women’s jail—being called a “women’s village”— members and allies of the LA No More Jails Coalition came out to protest and make their opposition to the plan heard. Vanir Construction Management, a contractor hired to assess the county’s jail needs, proposed 5 options detailing plans to keep more women of Los Angeles county locked up. As expected, the proposals were deeply flawed in the assumption that L.A. would continue to incarcerate at the current alarming rate, and in the assumption that jails are an appropriate method of providing mental healthcare and other services. Before the meeting, protestors gathered outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration building and called for an end to increasing prison space as a solution to systemic problems, and demanded a focus instead on providing access to quality housing, education, and healthcare in order to keep communities healthy and safe.

Image Continue reading


Bringing Water to the Desert

Enlace joins Border Angels in Solidarity with Migrants

By Ruth Campbell, Enlace Intern

On Friday July 12th, Enlace volunteers spent the day with the Border Angels in San Diego, a group that works to bring to light the deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border. We participated in a water drop, leaving jugs of water in the desert in the hopes they would be found by migrants braving harsh conditions along the border region.  With the creation of Operation Gatekeeper, border patrol has driven migrant traffic towards more dangerous climates, resulting in a rising death rate along the border even as rates of actual crossings fall in reaction to the economic realities of recession.  Throughout the day, the policies of severe surveillance and control of the border were painfully evident, their effect on the migrants who are sacrificed to this false logic of security heavy on our minds. Image

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July 8th California Prisoners begin an indefinite Hunger & Work Strike

California Prisoner Statewide Hunger Strikes Resume

In 2011, over 12,000 California state prisoners engaged in a hunger strike to end long term solitary confinement and to demand changes to the way that prisoners are assigned to torturous cells, known as the SHU (security housing units). Although the Department of Corrections acknowledged that their demands were reasonable and would be addressed – very little has changed for California prisoners since 2011. California is still spending millions of dollars a year to keep people in solitary confinement for decades!

On July 8, 2013 California Prisoners will begin an indefinite hunger strike and work strike until meaningful changes are made within the Department of Corrections.
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Proposed “SAFE” Act Threatens to Expand Detention

Last night the House Judiciary Committee passed the “SAFE” Act. The “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement” Act, introduced to the House by Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and also known as H.R. 2278, would give local police the authority to investigate and arrest those they suspect to be undocumented immigrants and transfer them to federal authorities for deportation, further criminalizing undocumented communities. The law increases the number of immigrants subject to mandatory detention and requires funding for the construction of detention beds and facilities in order to accommodate this.  It also allows for the indefinite detention of stateless deportees. The bill’s supporters say that the SAFE Act must compensate for inadequate federal enforcement of immigration laws and is a needed measure to secure borders before immigration reform can be passed, despite the sharp rise in deportations under the current administration.

Find Out How You Can Take Action against the SAFE ACT

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Los Angeles Father’s Day Immigration Rally

Protestors reflect on their struggle during the rally in front of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility on June 13th.

Protestors take a moment to reflect on their struggle during the rally in front of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility on June 13th.

By Ruth Campbell, Enlace Intern

New to Los Angeles and fresh from another semester at college across the country, one of the first places I visited in my new home in my role as intern for Enlace was the Twin Towers Correctional Facility.  It was June 13th and, after initial directional difficulties, I had arrived at the Father’s Day protest to find a diverse crowd including representatives of groups all across Los Angeles gathered to stand up to detention and deportation, calling for the release of fathers and loved ones.  Though new to the city, I felt oddly at ease among this group in front of the prison as I listened to speeches and prayers in English and in Spanish hoping for the reunification of families.  Petitions were passed around pleading for everything from individual cases to larger immigration reform.  The correctional facility is huge, and just inside I could see people gathered to observe us; as the rally wrapped up, we turned to face them and called, “Happy Father’s day!” and, “Feliz dia de los padres!” Continue reading


Who Will Fill Our Fathers Shoes?

Enlace, along with community organizations from Portland and Salem, is gearing up for a vigil outside of the Portland ICE facility to stand in solidarity with deported and detained fathers and the families torn apart by Congress’ and President Obama’s inhumane immigration policies.

Father's Day Vigil 2013 Portland

The vigil will take place on June 17, the day after Father’s Day, from 6 to 7pm at 511 NW Broadway. Bring a pair of men’s shoes and a picture of your father or a father you know who has been deported. We will display them to symbolize the thousands of fathers across the country that are detained and deported each week.

The Portland vigil is part of a nation-wide call for actions focusing on our deported fathers, put out by Detention Watch Network. Check their website for actions in your area.