The American Federation of Teachers, a PSI Affiliate, sent demand letters to five private equity firms with investments in corporations engaged in the prison and detention sector, challenging their use of the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to exploit incarcerated people and their families.
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The letters, authored by American Federation of Teachers, together with Worth Rises, Private Equity Stakeholder Project and Color of Change demanded these firms take immediate action to stop their portfolio corporations from exploiting incarcerated people and endangering the public.
Examples of profiteering targeted in the letters included substandard and inadequate healthcare and under staffing in medical facilities run by Corizon, one of the nation’s largest correctional healthcare providers. In normal circumstances, these practices put lives at risk, but with the Covid-19 crisis raging, they could kill thousands of people.
To make matters worse, many in the prison healthcare industry are using the pandemic to renegotiate contracts to make more money, using incarcerated peoples’ lives as bargaining chips. Several weeks ago, Wexford Health Sources threatened to walk away from a contract within months unless the agency increased its pay.
Effective healthcare is the most important need during a pandemic in any context. But the need is particularly great in prisons and jails, where contagious diseases are nearly impossible to contain. And outbreaks in facilities quickly spread beyond prison walls as correctional officers return to their homes each day, potentially carrying COVID-19 back to the public. To protect the incarcerated population and the broader public, quality healthcare must be provided to all inmates, immediately.
Other practices targeted in the letters include outrageously expensive calling costs for families to communicate with their incarcerated loved ones: Securus, one company involved, has charged families as much as $25 for a 15-minute phone call. Due to these high rates, families are routinely forced to choose whether they can afford to pay rent or pay for their child to hear the voice of an incarcerated parent. In fact, one-third of families with incarcerated loved ones goes into debt trying to stay connected. Attenti, which profits from electronic monitoring, charges insurmountable fees for this service, with many people sent back to prison for their inability to pay.
The private equity firms targeted included: Platinum Equity, which owns Securus (telecom provider), JPay (financial services), and Satellite Tracking of People (electronic monitoring); HIG, which owns Wellpath (healthcare), TKC Holdings (food service, commissary, and telecom provider); American Securities, which owns GTL (telecom provider); BlueMountain, which owns Corizon (healthcare); and Apax Partners, which owns Attenti (electronic monitoring).
By writing to these firms, who have large stakes in the corporations, unions and campaigners hope to improve practices and conditions for incarcerated people and workers.
Privatisation and outsourcing of services in the prison sector have created disastrous outcomes across the world. In 2016, after a series of high-profile failures, the US Attorney General decided to bring all privatized federal prisons back into public hands. The Trump administration recently reversed this decision and corporations in the sector have seen their shares sky-rocket on the back of increased migrant detention.
The American Federation of Teachers has produced a series of reports outlining the high-investment risks and abysmal human rights implications of privatized prison providers and outsourcing corporations.
PSI, together with affiliated unions, launched our “End Private Prisons” campaign, calling for all prison and detention related services to be brought into public hands.
Get involved and find out more on our People Over Profit campaigning platform.