Last June, Columbia University became the first university to fully divest from private prisons. Divestment is a powerful means by which institutions can stand as moral voice against immoral investment practices, and has repeatedly been a tool with which individuals and organizations can express their objections to everything from Apartheid to genocide. NYU needs to follow Columbia’s lead and divest from private prisons.
By holding investments in both private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and prison service companies such as Aramark, NYU is complicit in their malfeasance. Corizon and Aramark have a litany of offenses and malpractice. Aramark, which provides food for prisons and has a presence here on campus, has repeatedly been caught for serving maggot-infested food as well as being fined for a “thousands of incidents” in its kitchens. Corizon, a prison healthcare provider, has been sued over 660 times in five years for malpractice. These incidents arise out of culture in private prison services that values cost savings over people. Worse than these service companies are the private prisons themselves, who use every opportunity to save money, almost always to the detriment of the people they hold. A federal judge in Southern Mississippi, Judge Carleton Reeves, cited Walnut Grove, one of Geo Group’s youth private prison facilities, for allowing a “cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate.” Private prison companies all share a willingness to degrade and dehumanize some of the most vulnerable members of our society simply to improve their bottom line, and NYU should not be a part of it.
Worse still, there is little evidence that these saving measures are benefiting anyone but these private prison companies and their shareholders. Proponents and politicians have couched the rise in the number of private prisons following logic that they save taxpayers money, but there is little evidence that this is the reality. Private prisons often pick and choose the cheapest ways to hold inmates. The consequent rise in cost of state prisons supersedes the savings from privatization. More disturbingly, private prisons profit from the high recidivism rate in American prisons. In leaked investor pitches, CCA advertised high recidivism rate among people held in their facilities.
While conversations at NYU surrounding divestment have mostly centered on the contentious issue of fossil fuels, this is not the only industry where abuses occur. As a university that claims to be in and of the city and of benefit to the wider community, it is NYU’s moral imperative not to be part of abuses, whether they affect the environment or prisoners. The NYU administration must say no to profiting off others’ suffering and we must affirm that everyone, even people incarcerated, are deserving of basic tenets of human dignity.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this article appeared in the October 19 print edition. Email Shiva Darshan at [email protected]