The University of California says it has sold off investments in three large prison companies after pressure last month from black student organizations — but it’s a move that’s largely fiscal rather than the symbolic statement against prisons that the Afrikan Black Coalition wants to see.

Earlier this year, black student unions across California voted to call on the UC system to divest in companies supporting prisons and mass incarceration.

Inmates at Chino State Prison walk the hallway.
Inmates at Chino State Prison walk the hallway. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

“We’re coming from a moral and ethical perspective,” says Anthony Williams, ABC’s communications director for the Prison Divestment Campaign.

The ABC, which represents student unions across UC campuses, met with UC staff, which was “very open” to hearing from the students, he says.

The UC Office of the President has confirmed that it has sold almost $30 million in shares from three companies: Corrections Corporation of America, Geo Group Inc. and G4S.

ABC also wanted the UC system to sell shares of Wells Fargo, which it alleges also invests in prison companies. The problem is that UC’s investment in Wells Fargo is upward of $425 million, Williams says.

UC is looking at it from a fiscal perspective, says Dianne Klein, director of media engagement and strategy in the UC president’s office. There’s an obligation to serve current employees and its pension system, while meeting certain financial growth markers, she says.

After meeting with ABC representatives and taking a look at what kind of financial outcome would result from cutting the three smaller private prison investments, UC decided it was in the university’s  interest to sell, says Klein. The three shares sold represent a small fraction of the thousands of investments that make up UC’s roughly $100 billion portfolio, says Klein.

But the move doesn’t guarantee that the UC system won’t make future investments in prisons.

“We have a policy against divestment,” Klein says.

While the ABC applauds UC’s commitment to meeting several times with students and then selling off prison stock, it doesn’t go far enough, says Williams.

“We want to challenge it,” he says.

Students at other schools, such as  Stanford, are also pushing for complete divestment policies in order to hold institutions accountable for setting the tone as mindful world leaders.

Williams says this was a huge first step for the UC system. It’s the first public university in the nation to sell off such investments that he’s aware of, following a move by Columbia University earlier this year.

The ABC plans to continue to put pressure on the UC system to accept a complete divestment policy, says Williams.

“They really do need to think about the moral implications that they’re investing in,” he says.

Meanwhile, Klein says that the UC system has made many social and moral investments, like its participation in the recently announced clean energy venture fund.

Author

Devin Katayama

Devin Katayama is a reporter covering the East Bay for KQED News. Previously, he was the education reporter for WFPL in Louisville and worked as a producer with radio stations in Chicago and Portland, OR. His work has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, The Takeaway and Here and Now.

Devin earned his MA in Journalism from Columbia College Chicago, where he was a Follett Fellow and the recipient of the 2011 Studs Terkel Community Media Workshop Scholarship for his story on Chicago's homeless youth. He won WBUR's 2014 Daniel Schorr award and a regional RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award for his documentary "At Risk" that looked at issues facing some of Louisville's students. Devin has also received numerous local awards from the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Email: dkatayama@kqed.org Twitter: @RadioDevin Website: audiocollected.org

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