Friday, May 15, 2015


A positive development is this call for a movement in NJ for divestment from private prisons.  This is certainly something that Decarcerate the Garden State can partner with.  However we have some concerns about limiting focus to “privatized” prisons and firms that own and profit from them – see below this call to action for details.  We certainly believe these concerns can be worked out and a unified strategy can be developed.


I hope this finds you well! I am reaching out to invite you to an in-person meeting with local activists and community leaders to discuss the possibilities of a prison divestment campaign in New Jersey. The convening organizations are Unidad Latina en Acción, Responsible Endowments Coalition, and Enlace International-- the convening organization of the national prison divestment campaign. 

The meeting will be on  Wednesday, May 20 from 6 to 8pm at AFSC Immigrant Rights Program (89 Market Street, 6th Floor Newark, NJ 07102). 

Organizations who have been in preliminary conversations about prison divestment in NJ are: Wind of the Spirit, NJ Communities United, NJ Youth for Immigrant Liberation, and American Friends Service Committee.  We are hoping to bring as many NJ organizations fighting criminalization and mass incarceration into the room, so please circulate this invitation widely. 

Here is a proposed agenda: 
  1. Intros 
  2. Overview of agenda and goals
  3. Video on the Issue
  4. Initial Reactions 
  5. Overview of Campaign Strategy
  6. Power Analysis/ Potential Targets [if necessary] 
  7. Discussion
Here are some resources on prison divestment: 
Please reply to confirm your attendance. Thanks and feel free to respond with any questions or comments. Looking forward to seeing you all there! 

Nina Mariella Macapinlac
Responsible Endowments Coalition, Coordinator of Alumni Organizing 
Anakbayan NJ, Vice Chairperson 

Ruthie Wilson Gilmore, a nationally prominent prison abolitionist, scholar and author of volumes on the topic recently expressed her concerns about Decarceration efforts that are overly focused on “privatized” incarceration facilities.  Ruthie and I crossed paths as we were both involved in various local activist struggles around New Brunswick NJ when she attended and studied at Rutgers University.  She now is a professor at CUNY in New York City and we are working with her to schedule a speaking opportunity for her in NJ. 
In her piece “The Worrying State of the Anti-Prison Movement” she names over focus on privatized incarceration as one of 3 major maladies of our Decarceration struggle:

“(2) A tendency to aim substantial rhetorical and organizational resources at the tiny role of private prison firms in the prison-industrial complex, while minimizing the fact that 92 percent of the vast money-sloshing public system is central to how capitalism’s racial inequality works.
The long-standing campaign against private prisons is based on the fictitious claim that revenues raked in from outsourced contracts explain the origin and growth of mass incarceration. In any encounter about mass incarceration, live or on the Internet, print or video, sooner rather than later somebody will insist that to end racism in criminal justice the first step is to challenge the use of private prisons.
Let us look at the numbers. Private prisons hold about 8 percent of the prison population and a barely measurable number (5 percent) of those in jails. Overall, about 5 percent of the people locked up are doing time in private prisons. What kind of future will prison divestment campaigns produce if they pay no attention to the money that flows through and is extracted from the public prisons and jails, where 95 percent of inmates are held? Jurisdiction by jurisdiction, we can see that contracts come and go, without a corresponding change in the number or the demographic identity of people in custody. In addition, many contracts are not even held by private firms, but by rather municipalities to whom custody has been delegated by state corrections departments.

Her concerns ring particularly true in NJ.  While much of the immigration incarceration (detention) in NJ is privatized, NJ’s state prisons are state run.  That does not mean that there is not profit being yielded from NJ’s state prisons.  There are many professions that are feeding at the trough of mass incarceration in NJ including corrections officers and officials, police, legal representatives both on the prosecuting and defense side, bail bonds, the services that are contracted to the state (and county) prisons, the prison construction industry and the firms that make the cages, provide the security software and apparatus, the weaponry, the massive surveillance of the population both inside and outside of the prisons, etc.  (Much of the half way house industry in NJ is indeed privately run.)

Another concern is that a divestment campaign from privatized prisons can attempt to create a fiction that things are much better in local, state or federally run facilities.  The torture, medical neglect, unhealthy food, spread of disease, dehumanization, isolation, physical, mental and emotional abuse, killing and rape, exploiting and profiting off the enslavement of incarcerated workers, etc. that goes on across the whole incarceral system including NJ’s system regardless if facilities are privately or publicly run, belies any such notion.

So a NJ based movement must not be overly focused on the private firms.  We do need to nail the firms that are profiting off of mass detention for sure but that does nothing to address the issue of NJ’s state prison population, that on a national scale is among the worse in the nation when it comes to the racial breakdown with about 66% of the prison population being Black and about 10% Latino.

Decarcerate the Garden State has been pushing for a massive overhaul of how people are incarcerated along the lines of our proposed NJ Decarceration Act which is a working document that was synthesized through an interactive process involving dozens of NJ activists”

Our work is certainly complementary to any new effort for a divestment campaign and any opportunity to unite the concerns of mass incarceration and mass detention need to be nurtured and supported. 

One of our points of action has been a Tour De Decarcerate traveling panel discussion and in at least our Plainfield event we made clear our concern about mass detention.

Hopefully we can continue this tour and at the events present the connections between mass incarceration and mass detention and conduct discussions about how to better unify the super oppressed groups that are targeted by these oppressive systems.

We absolutely encourage folks to attend this meeting next Wednesday and we hope that we can be represented at the meeting.  We also look forward to incorporating the strategies coming out of the meeting toward a system challenging movement that wins both an end to mass incarceration and an end to mass detention of the immigrant population.

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