Lobbying for incarceration
America now locks up more people than anywhere else in the world. GEO Group and CoreCivic have played a role America’s high incarceration rates. Both companies are accused of lobbying for the harsh legislation that means the country now holds 20% of the world’s prisoners, despite having 5% of its population.
The disproportionate impact on black Americans is clear: a black man in America is over five times more likely to be incarcerated than a white man, and the likelihood that a low-income black man has been behind bars is 52%.
In the 1990s-2010s, both companies had links with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – a policy group responsible for drafting legislation in multiple states to increase the severity of prison sentencing. In 2019, GEO Group and CoreCivic respectively spent $1.52 million and $1.65 million on lobbying.
While the two companies claim that they have never lobbied on criminal justice or immigration enforcement issues, they do lobby for longer sentences and increased government funding for the private prison sector. There is also substantial evidence that private prisons have lobbied for lowering the barriers to prison labour.
Time to divest
Following a long-running campaign in America, many financial institutions in the US have cut their ties with the industry. Campaign organisations estimate that 72% of future financing to private prison companies – estimated to be over $1.9 billion – is no longer available.
GEO Group has acknowledged that pressure on financial institutions to distance themselves from the industry could impact its “financial conditions”. In 2018, Barclays, HSBC, NatWest Group and BNP Paribas all provided financial services for the companies. BlackRock owns 12% of both CoreCivic and GEO Group.
The following companies were also found to hold smaller investments in CoreCivic and/or GEO Group: AIG, Allianz, AXA, Barclays, BMO Financial Group, Citigroup (Citibank), HSBC, Invesco (owns 12% of The Co-operative Bank), Legal & General, and Standard Life Aberdeen. In July 2019, Barclays told CBS Moneywatch that it has no plans to lend to the private prison industry in the future, and in 2020 committed to divesting from the sector.