Columbia University Will Divest From Private Prison Companies

NEW YORK — Columbia University trustees voted Monday to divest from for-profit prison companies because of concerns about mass incarceration, becoming the first major university to do so.

Columbia, in New York, owned more than 230,000 shares of Corrections Corp. of America, the largest private prison company, headquartered in Nashville, Rolling Stone reported last year. The school no longer owns those shares, law professor Jeff Gordon disclosed in April. The school still holds shares in G4S, a British prison and security services company.

The trustees’ vote pledges Columbia will not invest its endowment of more than $8 billion in for-profit prisons in the future. It follows a recommendation this year from the school’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, and was endorsed by university President Lee Bollinger.

“This action occurs within the larger, ongoing discussion of the issue of mass incarceration that concerns citizens from across the ideological spectrum,” Columbia trustees said in a statement. “We are proud that many Columbia faculty and students will continue their scholarly examination and civic engagement of the underlying social issues that have led to and result from mass incarceration.”

Gordon, chair of an advisory subcommittee, said the group is considering whether Columbia should divest from fossil fuel companies as a stand against global warming.

Students protested for months to get Columbia to divest from for-profit prisons, citing alleged violence and human rights abuses.

An article in The Guardian described a G4S facility in England as rife with drugs and alcohol. An American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit accused a Corrections Corp. of America-owned prison as permitting excessive violence and prison guards who laughed as they declined to treat prisoners’ injuries.

According to the ACLU, “several studies suggest that prisoners in for-profit prisons face greater threats to their safety than those in publicly-run prisons.”

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Tyler Kingkade covers higher education at The Huffington Post. Contact him at tyler.kingkade@huffingtonpost.com.

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