The Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement voted last week to divest its roughly $1.2 million in stock from the private prison industry, citing civil rights abuses on the part of companies like the GEO Group, CoreCivic and G4S.
The industry has deep and long-standing ties with the region, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. George Wackenhut, a former FBI agent from Upper Darby, founded the GEO Group, and the company now manages upwards of 20 facilities in Pennsylvania.
“This decision is about doing what is right and just,” City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown said, according to the Inquirer. “I am proud that the board has taken this tangible step to ensure that the city will no longer invest its pension dollars into an industry with an exhaustive track record of civil rights abuses.”
Philadelphia’s pension board is following in the steps of New York City’s pension fund trustees, who voted to divest from private prisons in May of this year, as Oscar Perry Abello reported for Next City at the time. New York City’s pension funds are collectively the fifth-largest retirement plan in the U.S., so the trustees’ decision to sell off $48 million in shares (which had been invested in GEO and CoreCivic) made national headlines.
In August of 2016, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates released a memo instructing the Bureau of Prisons to phase out its use of for-profit prisons, the Inquirer reports. In February, however, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed that order.
Private prisons aren’t the only hotbed of abuse in Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. As Next City has covered, Community Corrections Centers managed by the state’s Department of Corrections also have high recidivism rates and a poor track record of returning former inmates to life outside prison.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.