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Higher education has always been promoted as the best way to address most, if not all, of the Black community’s social and economic ills. But what if our personal quest for empowerment is actually helping to drive the school-to-prison pipeline?

It is a question that some college students at the University of California have begun weighing and organizing around.

More specifically, the student group, which calls itself the Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC) released a report last month on its website, revealing how the UC system, which includes 10 campuses across the state, is “an indirect investor of private prisons through mutual funds-managed by outside investment bankers.”

How much is this alleged indirect investment?

Well, according to the ABC report, the UC system has allegedly invested $25 million in both the Corrections Corporation of America and private prison provider The Geo Group. Likewise, the Coalition reports that the UC system has a total of $425 million invested in Wells Fargo, which as the report contends is “one of the largest financiers of private prisons.”

Of course, mass incarceration is a serious issue in this country, including California, which in 2011 was ordered by the U.S Supreme Court to release 30,000 prisoners as a way to help alleviate overcrowding in its state penitentiary system. And as the ABC report noted: “While the state of California only built three CSU campuses and one UC campus in the last 30 years, 23 prisons were built in that same time frame.”

In response to its own findings, the student group has decided to take action against the university. And according to a new press release, which is also available on its site:

“After learning further about the for-profit industry of mass incarceration, the Black Student Unions at all nine UC campuses have unanimously voted on a resolution calling on the UC regents to divest immediately. The formal resolution calls on the UC Regents to divest from private prisons, divest from Wells Fargo, and to create a Socially Responsible Investment Screening Committee. For Black students, the decision was simple from both a personal and political standing.

In addition to divestment from CCA, The Geo Group and Wells Fargo, ABC is also demanding that UC Regents (the UC system governing board) institute a policy to never invest in a private prison corporation or Wells Fargo “for as long as Wells Fargo has any business dealings with private prison corporations.” It is also demanding that a Socially Responsible Investment screen committee be created that “actively researches whether future corporations the UC invests in are held to ethical standards” and that the diverted money be used and “re-invested in education, and companies that are owned or controlled by the formerly incarcerated.”

The idea of getting a university to divest millions might sound like a pretty hefty and symbolic task. However there is precedent.

It was public pressure, spurred by student activism, which led to Columbia University’s recent decision to divest roughly $10 million in shares from CCA and international for-profit prison operator G4S.

And according to this article, which was posted on the website for the Responsible Endowment Coalition, ABC is a part of a growing list of other student coalition campaigns aimed at getting their educational institutions to divest from corporations that support prisons, including students at UC Berkeley, University of Central Florida, Florida Atlantic University and the City University of New York (CUNY).

Hopefully, the young folks can gain headway on this particular issue.

While we all know that higher education is a wonderful avenue for self-empowerment, we should also be conscious that it’s going to take more than a bunch of us having college degrees to seriously deal with mass incarceration in this country.

For ways on how to find out and take divestment action at your college and university, the site has some helpful organizing tips.

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