Friday, May 25, 2012

Shareholders Challenging the Private Prison Industry

In an interesting bit of grassroots advocacy, a few shareholders of the country's two largest private prison companies have worked to bring more accountability to the industry, which is exempt from public records laws in nearly every jurisdiction despite the fact that it performs inherently governmental functions.

The GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, FL, had its annual shareholders' meeting in Palm Beach a few weeks back.  Some demonstrators protested outside, but the true challenge for the company would come from inside that very meeting.  The Dominican Sisters of Hope and Mercy Investment Services, both of which own a small amount of stock in the company, introduced a resolution that would have required the company to improve its policies to address human rights abuses within its facilities and submit to third-party audits.  A resolution by the Capuchin Order of Priests would have required the company to publicly disclose all the money it spends lobbying and which issues that money is meant to influence.

Meanwhile, CCA has been fighting off a resolution by an activist and shareholder that would require it to report on efforts to reduce sexual abuse within its facilities.  The resolution would bring some much-needed accountability to an industry that has proven quite effective at skirting it.  CCA has been aggressively fighting the resolution with the SEC from its inception, I assume because they'd rather spend their money lobbying Congress and state legislatures than trying to protect the prisoners under their watch.

Unfortunately, all three of these proposals were defeated in the respective meetings.  But there is reason for optimism - they all managed a sizable margin of support.  The resolution before the GEO Group concerning human rights abuses garnered nearly 30% of the vote.  The resolution introduced by the CCA shareholder was likewise rejected, but did garner more than 14 million votes out of a possible 86 million, nearly 20% of the vote.  With such support, I am optimistic these resolutions will be introduced again in the future, which would continue to pressure the industry into more accountability for its actions and transgressions.

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