What is the most immoral industry? Tobacco? Maybe. Guns? A contender. But it is hard to imagine any industry more loathsome than private prisons. And everyone should know exactly what respectable people are giving private prisons their money.
America’s prisons in and of themselves are awful places, hellholes, torture chambers, graveyards of living people, warehouses of pain holding staggering numbers of citizens, institutions of mass incarceration that will go down in history as our greatest sin. To privatize prisons and add an direct profit incentive to 1) lock up more people and 2) cut spending on prison services to the bone is to spread an extra layer of vileness over the prison industrial complex. It is, I would argue, the single most evil industry in America. It grows in direct proportion to human misery. If there is any industry that is so dirty that large financial institutions should not associate themselves with it in any way, it is private prisons.
A new report from a coalition of progressive groups including the Center for Popular Democracy and Make the Road New York zeroes in on the funding behind the two largest publicly traded private prison companies, GEO Group and CoreCivic. JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and BlackRock, in particular, have profited enormously on the rise in those stocks that happened after Trump was elected—a direct anticipation of increased private incarceration of Americans and immigrants alike.
Since Trump won the presidential election, JPMorgan, Wells, and BlackRock’s shares in the private prison and detention industry have dramatically increased. Comparing stock holdings now to those before the election (9/30/16 versus 12/31/17), JPMorgan, Wells, and BlackRock’s number of shares in the private prison and detention industry have collectively increased 28.3 times. This increase was driven mainly by JPMorgan and BlackRock, whose reported holdings increased 237.8 times. 15 JPMorgan is also the single largest private prison lender, and it holds 62 percent more debt than the second biggest lender to these two corporations, New York Life Group.
You can read the entire report for much more detail, but if you take one fact away from all of this let it be: the biggest financier of private prisons in America is a bank run by Jamie Dimon, the single most popular banker in our country and a friend to Democrats and Republicans alike. In his shareholder letter this year, Dimon bragged “We’ve helped communities large and small — by doing what we do best (lending, investing and serving our clients); by creatively expanding certain flagship Corporate Responsibility programs, including the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund, The Fellowship Initiative and our Service Corps; and by applying our successful Detroit investment model to neighborhood revitalization efforts in the Bronx in New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C.” Oddly, he did not mention his firm’s role in keeping many people of color in jail.
You don’t get rich for free.