Private-prisons divestment praised

Others urged to follow example of United Methodist pension board

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) salutes the recent announcement of the denomination’s pension fund divestment from private-prison corporations and the establishment of a permanent screen on such investments. The agency also issued a call for all organizations and institutions of conscience to divest from the private-prison industry.

GBCS applauds the decision of the United Methodist General Board of Pension & Health Benefits (GBPHB) to divest from two of the largest private, for-profit prison entities: Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) and GEO Group.

GBCS also appreciates the addition of the new investment screen to prohibit investment in companies that derive more than 10% of revenue from the management and operation of prison facilities.

GBPHB is the largest faith-based pension fund in the United States and ranks among the top 100 pension funds in the country. As a socially responsible investor, GBPHB is actively involved in shareholder advocacy, proxy voting, portfolio screening and community investing.

Sixth investment screen

The private-prison screen is the sixth adopted by GBPHB, guided by the United Methodist Social Principles. Other screens avoid investing in companies that derive significant revenues from gambling or the manufacture, sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages, tobacco-related products, weapons or pornography.

Attorney Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, described the United Methodist divestment and permanent screen as an “outstanding example of faith in action.” “This should become a national campaign,” she said. “No church, faith organization, or university in America should be investing in or profiting from prisons.”

Private prisons are a booming business that emphasizes incarceration in the U.S. criminal justice system, according to Bill Mefford, GBCS director of Civil & Human Rights. He said detention of undocumented immigrants has been an important ploy of the industry to fuel its profits.

“While many United Methodists have been fighting to reduce the number of people incarcerated by a prison system that is the largest in the world,” Mefford said, “our denomination has been profiting by the continuing emphasis on incarceration as a means of justice, rather than on healing for victims of crime and accountability and on restoration for those accused of crime.”

Others should divest

Mefford said the decision by GBPHB is a tremendous testament to the direct action of United Methodists throughout the United States who sent emails and signed a petition calling for this critical step of divestment and screening. This prompted the Interagency Task Force on Immigration to bring the issue of private or for-profit prisons to GBPHB’s attention.

The GBPHB announcement is a moment to celebrate, according to Laura Markle Downton, GBCS Criminal Justice grassroots coordinator. She said, however, that work has only begun as private-prison corporations continue to yield record profits from promoting incarceration of millions of persons.

“We urge our colleagues to also divest from private prison corporations to ensure that any profit incentive for further abusive over-incarceration of our sisters and brothers be eliminated worldwide,” Downton said.

For more information about the private-prison industry or mass incarceration, contact Laura Markle Downton via email at

The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. The board’s primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education & Leadership Formation, United Nations & International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.

Editor’s note:Laura Markle Downton prepared the following list providing more information about private prisons:

  • Private prisons and mass incarceration
  • Gaming the system
  • Influence of private prison industry in immigration detention
  • Town relies on troubled-youth prison for profits
  • Prison economics help drive Ariz. immigration law
  • Who benefits when a private prison comes to town
  • Getting tough on immigrants to turn a profit
  • Private prisons found to offer little in savings
  • You can learn more about the United Methodist petition campaign at Petition urges divestment.

     This article appeared in the Jan. 9, 2012 issue of Faith in Action on the General Board of Church and Society webpage at It is reposted here with permission.

    For more on the United Methodist divestment from the private prison industry, see the following:

    "Board screens out private prison investments," Jan. 9,

    "Break the Cycle of Poverty and Imprisonment: Ask UMC to Divest from Private Prisons," Nov. 23,


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