-Consumers have power! Your choices in consumption can direct social change. If you plan to divest and move to an ethical bank, be sure to send a letter to the bank explaining why you plan to switch. A principled stand is one thing, but you should do your best to notify the bank about your dissatisfaction with their practices. Who knows, maybe they will make a change.
-It isn't easy to find an entirely "ethical" bank, but I did my research on local banks and credit unions in order to find a place that gives back to the community, does not invest in unethical businesses, and adheres to ethical, nondiscriminatory lending practices. Once I found a bank that met these criteria, and also had the amenities I wanted such as mobile banking, it was easy to make the switch. All told, it only took about an hour to go to the bank and open new accounts and five minutes to switch my e-pay information on my autobilling to the new account.
-Please take a minute to educate yourself on the role of Wells Fargo and other banks in the private prison industry, and why it is important to urge them to either stop backing it or demand changes.
- Report on Wells Fargo's ties to the prison industry
- What other banks support private prisons?
- Prison Divestment Campaign
Please feel free to use this letter or portions of it for advocacy:
After much consideration, I have decided it is unethical for me to continue banking with Wells Fargo until it changes its practices. I am morally and professionally opposed to the investment in the private prison industry and cannot justify a relationship with a bank that invests in the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, which run private prisons and immigrant detention facilities.
Wells Fargo claims it has an interest in the wellbeing of its community members, yet privately run prisons and detention facilities violate that interest in myriad ways.
- Poor outcomes: Studies show that private prisons perform worse than public ones. Since the private prison’s primary goal is to profit, it does not have an interest in making communities safer, preparing inmates for their release, or rehabilitating. Recidivism rates and instances of violence are higher for private prison inmates than public prison inmates.
- Mass incarceration culture: Private prisons contribute to mass incarceration by driving an imprisonment-for-profit model where profiting parties lobby for legislation that will keep prison and detention beds full. Private prisons sign agreements with states to maintain high occupancy rates, which incentivizes legislation that will boost incarceration and disproportionately lengthen sentences even for nonviolent crimes. This mentality is counter-productive to society and perpetuates detrimental, illogical practices. Mass incarceration legislation has jeopardized our communities, breaking up families and disparately impacting people of color.
- Corruption: CCA has continuously lobbied against transparency, bullied its way into contracts, fostered scandals such as “kids for cash,” brought policing into schools in order to increase juvenile incarceration rates, and has turned a blind eye to conditions that lead to prisoner deaths and dangerous situations for its underpaid employees. CCA and GEO Groups have been mired in scandal since inception.
- Human rights violations: In order to protect profits, CCA underfeeds its prisoners; overcrowds its facilities; denies medical care to prisoners in dire need, such as people with mental illness/disorders (who comprise 50% of prison populations) and disabilities; violates wage contracts with its employees; excuses record-high reports of physical and sexual abuse against prisoners rather than addressing the conditions that lead to them; and engages in slave labor (for instance, military gear is produced in private prisons, with workers paid ten cents per hour). Similarly, GEO Group, Inc. has been caught violating human rights under U.S. and International law, providing unsafe conditions in its facilities, fostering environments of abuse, and embracing methods of torture such as solitary confinement. In 2013, the ACLU submitted a report on EMCF, a corrections facility for special needs and psychiatric prisoners, which was denying medications and basic medical care to prisoners and exhibited serious public health issues such as rat infestations and non-working toilets. This is just one example among hundreds of lawsuits that have come forth against GEO. Still, neither CCA nor GEO has amended its practices.
- Failure to protect youth: In a 2012 investigation, GEO juvenile facilities in Mississippi were cited for the following: “sexual misconduct between guards and inmates; use of excessive force by guards; excessive use of chemical agents; poor use-of-force policies, reporting, training and investigations; youth-on-youth violence and sexual assault; and seriously inadequate medical and mental health care.” This is merely one example of GEO and CCA’s continuing inability to serve youths, most of whom will be released from prison and need proper attention in order to develop intellectual and social maturity.
- Inability to save taxpayer money: Private prisons may operate slightly more cheaply than public by employing the above deplorable practices, but they have higher collateral consequences on society. One cannot estimate the exact costs on victims and society for an offender “recidivating” after release from prison, but this notion of not caring about such outcomes -- and what's more, profiting off them -- is disgusting on insurmountable levels. Other collateral consequences include: families may lose a primary breadwinner to incarceration and have to rely on social services; taxpayers and Social Security lose payers who would otherwise be working instead of serving years in prison; governments have begun pouring money into over-policing communities rather than repairing them; bolstering the school-to-prison pipeline has jeopardized the next generation’s chance at an education and becoming productive citizens; and inadequate medical care poses both a public health risk and a systemic issue in handling released prisoners.
Prison and detention are meant to keep our communities safer, rehabilitate inmates, and promote justice for victims, not fill our coffers. As long as the private prison industrial complex thrives, we have an impossible battle in reforming our system of mass incarceration into a system that is effective, efficient, unbiased, logical, humane, and on par with American standards. I strongly urge you to reconsider your investment strategy, especially as you attempt to recover from your recent phony accounts scandal. Until then, you remain complicit in this abhorrent system.