How JPMorgan Chase Is Cashing In On Private Prisons
Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
JPMorgan Chase, like so many corporations, is trying to have its cake and eat it under the Trump administration. In the last few weeks, it has invested time, public relations’ efforts and money in presenting itself as a defender of human rights. But the $2 million Chase pledged to fight racism is a drop in the ocean compared to the potential yield from its massive investment in the private prison system: one of the starkest manifestations of racial injustice in the U.S. today, profiting primarily from the detention of immigrants seeking a new life in the U.S. The DACA cancellation last week will only further boost the huge profit to be made from keeping yet more people under lock and key.
Now Trump has canceled DACA, JPMorgan Chase must decide how serious it really is about this newly discovered sense of social consciousness. For its stance on human rights to have real meaning, the corporation must divest from the private prison system. Taking a real public position might hurt profits, but may help convince critics that the company means business when it comes to standing up for racial justice.
Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is increasingly vocal in public about his newfound ethical concerns. He made a very public statement distancing himself from President Trump over Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia. He has also described himself as “pro-immigrant”: an opinion that is hard to square away against his roles as a financier, underwriter and bond-holder of private prison corporations like GEO Group and Core Civic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America). Both corporations oversee Immigrant Detention Centers throughout the U.S., many of which house undocumented migrants.
JPMorgan Chase’s investments in private prisons certainly make economic sense: the private prison industry is worth about $5 billion, and the election of Donald Trump has caused the profits of the sector to balloon further. Almost immediately after Trump’s inauguration, the Department of Justice rescinded the Obama administration’s order to phase out federal private prisons from the criminal justice system.
In fact, the day after Trump won the election, the stock price of Core Civic, one of the largest private detention centers in the U.S., jumped 43 percent as investors clamored to capitalize on the sector’s reversal of fortune after the Obama administration’s sustained attempts to stifle the private prison industry. Perhaps JPMorgan Chase was wringing its hands in the face of such a clear backwards step on human rights in private, but its investments in the sector suggest otherwise.
It’s also important to note that investors like JPMorgan Chase are not simply passive beneficiaries of a grossly unjust immigration system. Their financing actively encourages the private prison sector to grow. Private prison corporations rely on debt financing from banks like JPMorgan Chase to expand their control of the criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems. In turn, the banks generate revenue from collecting interest and fees on CCA’s and GEO Group’s debts.
Not unusual for one of Trump’s corporate cronies, Jamie Dimon is considerably bolder with his words than his actions. Despite being “pro immigrant” and his recent attempts to distance himself from Trump, Dimon served on Trump’s business advisory council, even after Trump’s disparaging statements about immigrants throughout his presidential campaign. Dimon will certainly have been aware of the egregiously offensive rhetoric President Trump used on the campaign trail, and since taking office, the president has been overtly hostile to immigration in almost every form, leading to increases in immigrant detention throughout the U.S.
His reversal of DACA takes this attitude to new heights of inhumanity, as thousands of young undocumented Americans face deportation from the country where they were raised and in which they belong. JPMorgan Chase’s $2 million donation to charity seems a rather anemic response to millions of lives disrupted and families fragmented as a result of a campaign promise made in the spirit of venal self-promotion and self-interest.
Dimon’s behavior suggests that he believes the public and the press can be distracted from his profiteering from human rights abuses through large donations that are frankly minuscule compared to the personal wealth of most JPMorgan Chase senior employees, let alone the corporation itself.
SumOfUs members are working together to demonstrate that Dimon is mistaken. Earlier this year, the former CEO of Uber and the CEOs of Tesla and Disney were forced to step down from Trump’s Business Advisory Council after immense public pressure, including a 100,000 signature SumOfUs petition. Chase is the largest consumer bank in the United States, which means it is particularly susceptible to consumer pressure. If people make their voices heard through public pressure, including shareholder advocacy and grassroots organizing, Dimon will be forced to address these issues in public.
The private prisons industry is a horrifying manifestation of some of the worst injustices in the U.S., and in the rest of the world; it destroys lives, shatters families and sacrifices fundamental principles of human dignity in deference to favorable entries on a balance sheet. It is an often-repeated tenet of human rights theory and practice that when the rights of one person or group of people are diminished, ultimately we are all diminished. Perhaps it is this insight that has inspired JPMorgan Chase’s toe-dip into the water of human rights advocacy. Until it really puts its money where its mouth is, we will have no way of knowing.
Hannah Lownsbrough is the executive director at SumOfUs, an international consumer watchdog.