United Methodist Church divests from private prisons

by Melanie Wilmoth

Until last week, the United Methodist Church (UMC) owned stock in two private prison companies, GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). According to Bill Mefford, Director for Civil and Human Rights for the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), the denomination held about $736,000 in CCA and $215,500 in GEO Group.

Months ago, Mefford, the GBCS, and UMC churches started a petition on Change.org:

The private prison industry is a fast growing industry and extraordinary profits are made from such investments, with these two companies posting profits of 2.9 billion by the end of 2010. These profits are at the expense of people of color. Private prison corporations, such as GEO Group and CCA, lobby hard for anti-immigrant legislation, such as seen in Arizona with SB 1070 and Georgia with SB 87. Private prisons are also responsible for neglect and abuse in prisons. Such legislation and examples of abuse and neglect directly contradict United Methodist stances and biblical teaching.

We, as United Methodists, believe that profiting from private prisons and owning stock in private prison corporations like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America is incompatible with biblical teaching. Therefore, we call for The United Methodist Church to:

1. Immediately divest from all investment in private prison corporations, including Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, and

2. Take all money earned to date of divestment from ownership of the stock in GEO Group and CCA, and give it to organizations dedicated to helping those coming out of prison to reenter society.

It was a great victory for the GBCS and other advocates when the UMC announced this week that it is divesting from GEO Group and CCA. According to Laura Markle Downton, Criminal Justice Grassroots Coordinator at the GBCS:

“As of last week, the United Methodist Church has divested from both CCA and GEO Group, and UMC’s Board of Pensions, which controls the investments of our church, has permanently put into place a screen that will not allow us to invest in any corporation in the future that has gross revenues of 10% or more from private prisons.”

Social justice agency salutes pension fund for divesting from private-prison investments

Urges other organizations of conscience to do likewise and send a message condemning mass incarceration for profit.

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 ldownton@umc-gbcs.org.

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.

6 thoughts on “United Methodist Church divests from private prisons

  1. “2. Take all money earned to date of divestment from ownership of the stock in GEO Group and CCA, and give it to organizations dedicated to helping those coming out of prison to reenter society.”


  2. Thank God someone, the United Methodist Church in particular, who has seen the horrific conditions of some prisons and is willing to put their money where their faith and belief is.

    Sister Catherine Livers

  3. And the UMC is divesting itself of all stock that involves tobacco, liquor, etc, I hope

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