In a major victory for grassroots and national organizations—including Daily Kos—JPMorgan Chase announced Tuesday that it will sever ties with the private prison industry. The announcement comes after a decade-plus fight to get corporations, including Chase, to divest from private prisons. In September 2018, Daily Kos joined the #FamiliesBelongTogether Coalition in its campaign demanding that Wall Street banks cancel contracts with private prisons and immigrant detention centers.
A spokesperson for JPMorgan Chase tells Reuters that the company "will no longer back the private prison industry," citing the costs and benefits of providing services to various industries.
As reported in February, JPMorgan Chase was a major funder of GEO Group and CoreCivic, the biggest operators of both private prisons and immigrant detention centers in the United States. These two corporations control nearly 75 percent of the private prison industry, and earn over $2.7 billion in taxpayer dollars per year—all to keep people behind bars.
The bank's debt financing allowed GEO Group and CoreCivic, who collectively hold nearly $4 billion in debt, to carry out their day-to-day operations and keep the lights on in the facilities where black and brown people are detained and abused by the hundreds of thousands. That's why organizers have been fighting relentlessly to bring public attention to the atrocities of prisons—and the important role that banks play in keeping them running. Without funding from major banks and the complicity of shareholders, the private prison industry will suffer.
Although JPMorgan Chase does not directly admit it, it was grassroots and digital organizers who pressured cancellation of these contracts, after shining a national spotlight on the profitable backing of hate. In 2017, Freedom to Thrive, Make the Road New York, The Center for Popular Democracy and other immigrants rights groups launched the #BackersofHate campaign targeting major banks. In November 2018, Real Money Moves launched as a national initiative of celebrities, athletes, artists, and activists, who committed to keep their money out of private prisons. All forces united through the #FamiliesBelongTogether Corporate Accountability Coalition, coordinated by MomsRising, in 2018 to organize national actions.
Just last month, immigrant families and activists with the coalition showed up at JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo branches all across the country to deliver hundreds of thousands of petition signatures to their headquarters and branch locations. This Valentine’s Day of action elevated the voices of over 150,000 people—each pledging to switch banks unless the financial giants ended their relationships with private prisons and immigration detention centers.
Protests weren’t limited to just the banks, either. In New York City, members of Make the Road New York arrived outside of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s apartment building with a mariachi band, and sang breakup serenades demanding that Dimon end the bank’s funding relationship.
"This has become a moral issue that has put banks in a situation where supporting this industry means supporting the brutal, and often deadly, immigration policies of our current administration," said Matt Nelson, executive director of Presente.org, the largest online advocacy group for Latin American immigrants in the United States, in the wake of the protests. “Every time the public gets more engaged, it visibilizes the real world challenges and pain that so many migrants are going through because of the policies of the Trump administration, as well as the obscene profit motivation for family detention within the private prison industry,” Nelson added.
And that's exactly what happened, but the fight is not over. Activists are now looking toward other major banks, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America, to join JPMorgan Chase and end their support of private prisons once and for all.