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Help Us Take Down the Private Prison Industry

2:25 pm in Uncategorized by Rashad Robinson

The number of people detained in for-profit prisons has grown by 1,664% in the past twenty years and the human impact has been devastating. Private prisons report some of the most abusive and inhumane conditions — cutting back on staff training, rehabilitative programing, and health care in order to maximize profits. Last year, a federal judge transferred all prisoners out of GEO Group’s Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility after finding it to be a “a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.”

For years industry giants like CCA, GEO Group and MTC have successfully lobbied for legislation that puts more people behind bars, and for longer. But we have the power to stop this. ColorOfChange has just launched our private prison divestment campaign and we need your help.

Check out the email we sent to members today and make sure to join us in asking shareholders and board members to pull their money from this corrupt business. Once you’re done, please share with friends and family to increase our impact.

Dear Member,

The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and the private prison industry is making a killing off this broken system. For-profit prison companies get paid for each person that fills their cells — raking in $5 billion in annual revenue.1 Empty beds mean lost profits, so to keep the money flowing the industry spends millions lobbying the government to expand the destructive policies that keep more people behind bars for longer, harsher sentences.2

Tragically, one-third of all Black men will spend part of their lives in prison.3 Meanwhile, for-profit prisons promote and exploit mass incarceration and racial-bias in the criminal justice system — further accelerating our nation’s prison addiction. We can stop this. The prison industry depends on corporate backers for the capital it needs to keep growing,4 and allies in government for contracts that fill their prisons. If we convince enough investors and board members to leave the industry, we can discredit incarceration as a business, bring attention to the harm it creates, and deter public officials from granting contracts to prison companies.

Please join us in urging investors and board members of for-profit prison companies to get out of this exploitative business. We’ll inform them of what they’re involved in, and if they refuse to do what’s right, we’ll hold them publicly accountable.

Federal agencies and state governments contract with three main companies to lock people up: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group, Inc., and the Management and Training Corporation (MTC). The top two prison companies, CCA and GEO, are publicly traded and financed by investors, major banks and corporations, who hold shares in the industry. CCA and GEO Group make money by charging a daily rate per body that is sent to them — costing tax payers billions for dangerous, ineffective facilities.5 The industry also makes money by avoiding tax payments.CCA will dodge $70 million dollars in tax payments this year by becoming a real estate investment trust (REIT) and designating their prisons as “residential”.6

In order to maximize profits, prison companies cut back on staff training, medical care, and rehabilitative services — causing assault rates to double in some private prisons.7 A 2010 ACLU lawsuit against CCA-run Idaho Correctional Center cited a management culture so violent the facility is known as the “gladiator school”.8 The industry also maximizes profits by lobbying for and benefiting from laws that put more people in jail. In the 1990′s CCA chaired the Criminal Justice Task force of shadowy corporate bill-mill, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which passed “3 strikes” and “truth in sentencing” laws that continue to send thousands of people to prison on very harsh sentences.9 Black folks are disproportionately subjected to these uniquely harsh conditions due to our extreme overrepresentation in the private prison system.10

In many parts of the country, the political tide is shifting against the for-profit prison industry. Earlier this summer, Kentucky, Texas, Idaho, and Mississippi broke ties with CCA after reports of chronic understaffing, inmate death, and rising costs to the states became undeniable.11 In April, New Hampshire rejected all private prison bids because the prison corporations could not show that they would follow legal requirements for safely housing prisoners.12 And, there is growing opposition to California Governor Jerry Brown’s misguided plan to comply with a Supreme Court order to alleviate the State’s prison overcrowding crisis by moving thousands of prisoners into private facilities, at a public cost of $1 billion over 3 years.13

The private prison industry should not control who is locked up, for how long, and at what price. For-profit prison companies have investors that cut across many industries. Some of these investors — wealthy individuals, major banks and financial companies — know exactly what they’re doing. But with enough pressure, they might reconsider whether it’s worth being known as profiting from exploitation and racism in the criminal justice system.

Profiting off the brutality and discrimination of incarceration is shameful. Please join us in calling on the investors and board members of for-profit prison companies to get out of this corrupt business.

Thanks and Peace,

–Rashad, Matt, Arisha, Aimée, William, Lyla and the rest of the team
September 4th, 2013


1. “A Boom Behind Bars,” Bloomberg Businessweek, 03-17-2011

2. “Gaming the System,” (.pdf) Justice Policy Institute, 06-01-2011

3. “1 in 3 Black Men Go To Prison? The 10 Most Disturbing Facts About Racial Inequality in the U.S. Criminal Justice System,” AlterNet, 03-17-2012

4. “Private Prison Profits Skyrocket as Executives Assure Investors of Growing Offender Population,” ThinkProgress, 05-09-2013

5. “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” (.pdf) ACLU, 11-01-2011

6. “The Legacy of Chattel Slavery: Private Prisons Blur the Line Between Real People and Real Estate With New IRS Property Gambit,” Truthout, 02-04-2013

7.”The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About 30 Years of Corrections Corporation of America,” (.pdf) Grassroots Leadership, 06-01-2013

8. “ACLU Lawsuit Charges Idaho Prison Officials Promote Rampant Violence,” ACLU, 03-11-2010

9. “Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America,” (.pdf) 01-01-2012

10. “The Color of Corporate Corrections: Overrepresentation of People of Color in the Private Prison Industry,” Prison Legal News, 08-30-2013

11. “Three States Dump Major Private Prison Company in One Month” ThinkProgress, 06-21-2013

12.”New Hampshire Rejects All Private Prison Bids,” ThinkProgress, 04-05-2013

13. “Gov. Brown’s misguided private prison plan” SF Gate, 08-28-2013

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Have you seen these billboards? launched a campaign.

2:02 pm in Uncategorized by Rashad Robinson

Just weeks before election day, voter intimidation billboards have popped up in Black and Latino neighborhoods in Ohio and Wisconsin. The billboards threaten voters with lengthy prison time and enormous fines if they commit “voter fraud.” It’s a clear tactic to frighten people of color and keep us away from the polls.

This weekend, ColorOfChange launched a campaign calling on Clear Channel, the hosts of the billboard, to take down the signs immediately. Read the email we sent to our members below and be sure to take action here. Read the rest of this entry → tells the NY Senate: Stop unlawful, racially-biased marijuana arrests

4:31 pm in Uncategorized by Rashad Robinson

Today, ColorOfChange and partners including Drug Policy Alliance launched a campaign calling on members of the New York State Legislature to stop unlawful, discriminatory marijuana arrests.

Black and Latino New Yorkers experience a different New York from that experienced by their White counterparts. By supporting legislation that’s now backed by Gov. Cuomo and a bipartisan coalition, lawmakers in Albany can keep young people of color from being saddled with criminal records that can exclude them from school, work and other important opportunities.

Check out a moving video on this topic here, and read the email we sent to our members after the jump. Please join the campaign here. Read the rest of this entry →

Tell your state officials: Stand against ‘Shoot First’ laws

12:35 pm in Uncategorized by Rashad Robinson

This week, ColorOfChange launched a campaign calling on state officials to repeal Shoot First Laws – the dangerous law that’s being used to shield George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin.

Please join us in calling on elected officials in your state to stand against these laws. Here’s the email we sent to our members.

Dear ColorofChange Member,

Florida’s ‘Shoot First’ law allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer to walk free without formal charges — for more than a month. Shoot First laws legalize vigilante homicide, even in circumstances that would otherwise merit murder charges.1 In Trayvon’s case, local law enforcement hid behind the Shoot First law as justification for failing to arrest George Zimmerman, saying that his claim of self-defense stopped them from pursuing even manslaughter charges.2

Florida’s dangerous Shoot First law was spread to many other states across the country by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Please join us in calling on our elected officials nationwide to take a stand against the shoot first agenda. It only takes a moment: Read the rest of this entry →

Tell State Farm, McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson: ‘Stop supporting ALEC’

5:36 pm in Uncategorized by Rashad Robinson

ALEC CROW - 21st Century Disenfranchisement

(Photo by DonkeyHotey via flickr)


UPDATE: ColorOfChange responds to reports that McDonald’s has ended its membership in ALEC.

Today, State FarmJohnson & Johnson and McDonald’s have all been receiving phone calls from ColorOfChange members and allies. Hundreds of people are making calls to the three new corporations to demand that the companies stop funding ALEC, the conservative policy group behind voter suppression and “Shoot First” bills. In Florida, the so-called “Stand your Ground” law — the prototype for ALEC’s model legislation — has been used to defend the actoins of Trayvon Martin’s killer.

Last week, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Kraft Foods all announced that their relationships with ALEC had drawn to a close. And yesterday, our members started contacting AT&T, with the good folks at the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) joining us in the wake of their own victory with the Gates Foundation.

This campaign is on fire, and we are so excited by all that you’re doing to support.

Will you help us hold State FarmJohnson & Johnson and  AT&T accountable for supporting voter suppression and Kill at Will bills? Please take a moment to call and demand that they stop supporting ALEC.

At urging of ColorOfChange, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo sever ties with ALEC

5:54 pm in Uncategorized by Rashad Robinson

Today, NPR broke the news that PepsiCo has also dropped its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The shadowy group has pushed discriminatory voter ID laws in statehouses across the country. ALEC is also behind Kill at Will bills like the Florida legislation being used to defend George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin. From the NPR piece:

Coca-Cola’s announcement came hours after a civil rights group,, launched an online drive calling on Coca-Cola to stop underwriting the ALEC agenda on voter ID laws in several states… Read the rest of this entry →

Justice for Trayvon Martin

1:31 pm in Uncategorized by Rashad Robinson

Today, ColorOfChange launched a campaign calling on the Department of Justice to investigate the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.

Please read the email we sent to members below, and join us in our demand that the DOJ take over the case, arrest Zimmerman and launch an independent investigation into the Sanford police department’s unwillingness to protect Martin’s civil rights.

Dear members,

Three weeks ago, 17-year old Trayvon Martin was gunned down by self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Despite Zimmerman admitting to following, confronting, and killing Trayvon, he has yet to be arrested or charged with any crime.1

Just minutes before Trayvon was killed, Zimmerman had called police stating that Trayvon looked “suspicious.” Trayvon was unarmed and walking back to his father’s home in Sanford, Florida when Zimmerman accosted him.

At the crime scene, Sanford police botched their questioning of Zimmerman, refused to take the full statements of witnesses, and pressured neighbors to side with the shooter’s claim of self-defense.2 As it turns out, Sanford’s police department has a history of failing to hold perpetrators accountable for violent acts against Black victims and the police misconduct in Trayvon’s case exemplifies the department’s systemic mishandling of such investigations.3 And now, the State Attorney’s office has rubber-stamped the Sanford police’s non-investigation, claiming that there is not enough evidence to support even a manslaughter conviction.4

Trayvon’s family and hundreds of thousands of people around the country are demanding justice.5 Please join us in calling on the Department of Justice to take over the case, arrest Trayvon’s killer, and launch an independent investigation into the Sanford police department’s unwillingness to protect Trayvon’s civil rights. It takes just a moment:

Walking home from the store shouldn’t cost you your life, but when Black youth are routinely assumed to be violent criminals, being randomly killed is a constant danger.6 Before Zimmerman decided to get out of his parked car — gun in tow — to pursue Trayvon on foot that night, he called the police to identify Trayvon as a “suspicious person” — apparently because he was wearing a hoodie and walking too slowly in the rain for Zimmerman’s liking. Despite being instructed not to follow Trayvon, Zimmerman proceeded to confront and fatally shoot the boy in the chest within a matter of minutes.7 Read the rest of this entry → Black History Month Series: Organizing for the Jena Six

6:40 pm in Uncategorized by Rashad Robinson

Most of us had never heard of Jena, Louisiana. But in 2006, six teenage boys were arrested and the small town of 4,000 would soon be thrust into the national spotlight as a prime example of 21st century Jim Crow justice.

It all started on August 31st at Jena High School when a Black student sat under a tree in the courtyard that had come to be known as for White students only. When students returned to school the next day, they found three nooses hanging from the same tree.

School administrators dismissed the incident as a prank and gave the students responsible three days suspension. African-American parents were never notified of the incident. In response, Black students held a peace rally under the tree, gathering there in solidarity during lunch. Administrators responded to the peaceful demonstration with hostility, and the school would later call in the district attorney. Flanked by police officers, District Attorney Reed Walters infamously told Black students, “I can end your life with a stroke of a pen.” We would soon see the lengths he’d go to prove it.

Throughout the fall of 2006, a series of racially-charged incidents occurred in Jena. On one occassion, a White student drew a gun on a group of African-American students, claiming self-defense. After the Black students wrestled the gun away, they went to the police to file charges. Local law enforcement responded by charging the Black students with assault and stealing the gun. The White student was never charged.

Tensions continued to rise among community members, and eventually six Black teenagers were taken into custody for beating a White classmate who was severely battered after he allegedly shouted racial slurs at them. The six boys, all between the ages of 15 and 17 years old, were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy. Each of them faced between 20 and 100 years in prison — a life sentence for what was essentially a schoolyard fight. And the district attorney made it clear in a press release that he would seek the maximum penalty.

Mychal Bell, 16 at the time, was the first to appear before an all-White jury. He was charged with aggravated battery and conspiracy and faced up to 22 years in prison. Marcus Bell, father of Mychal, would later say, “You know, if this don’t teach him what it is to be Black now, I don’t know what will.” Marcus Bell’s words speak to a sobering fact: Black boys face a 1 in 8 chance of entering prison once they enter their twenties. Racial disparities within the criminal justice system have been at the center of much of our work at ColorOfChange.

Hosts on Black radio shows and a network of racial justice bloggers and organizers began getting the word out about what was happening in Jena. Soon ColorOfChange was in the midst of one of our most dynamic campaigns to date. Read the rest of this entry →

Our February Series: Katrina and the birth of ColorOfChange

12:57 pm in Uncategorized by Rashad Robinson

(image: mattewalt/flickr)

(image: mattewalt/flickr)

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in August and September of 2005, upending the lives of 1.5 million people and putting Black folks’ lack of political and social power front and center for all the world to see.

The storms magnified racial disparities in the U.S., and no place demonstrated this more clearly than New Orleans, where 80% of the city was submerged after Katrina. Out of this devastation, ColorOfChange was born.

When Katrina touched land on August 29, more than a third of all Black New Orleanians were living in poverty. As we know well from the televised accounts, these impoverished and largely Black neighborhoods bore the brunt of the disaster. And the lack of access to resources was one major reason why folks couldn’t simply leave when they got news of the coming storm.

Adding insult to injury, the federal government took its time responding once the levees and flood walls broke. We were heartbroken by the apathy of the Bush Administration and the failures of corporate media, some members of which depicted African-American survivors as “looters” and “refugees.” These characterizations had real consequences, as a groundbreaking investigation in The Nation magazine would later reveal.

Within a month of the organization’s launch, ColorOfChange had attracted its first 10,000 members. People who received our earliest emails in the aftermath of the storm passed them along to their family and riends, who in turn joined the cause. Following Katrina and Rita, our members raised their voices in support of Gulf Coast housing rightsvoting rights, and access to an intact safety net. Our campaigns represented everyday folks’ ability to amplify the demands of those affected by the storms. They represented the power of Black Americans and our allies to respond to the costliest national disaster in American history by building a network that could respond quickly and forcefully.

For victims of the storms, the battle for dignity and justice is far from over. As recently as last month, FEMA told Hurricane survivors to repay federal funds they’d received as part of the relief effort. And ColorOfChange has supported the local fight against the expansion of the Orleans Parish Prison, the same jail where inmates were left in their cells to fend for themselves as the floodwaters rose in the days following the storm.

So why point to Katrina during Black History Month?

Events that took place during and after the storms continue to shape thousands of lives. New Orleans in particular is struggling to rebuild in the face of sobering statistics. Just one example: 65% of Black children under the age of 5 in the city live in poverty. We’ve seen victories in the region, but progress has been slow.ColorOfChange remains committed to supporting Gulf Coast residents as they work to rebuild their communities. That’s Black history in the making.

Our February series: ColorOfChange history is Black history

1:40 pm in Uncategorized by Rashad Robinson

This month the ColorofChange blog will feature some key events in contemporary Black history, almost all of which coincide with campaigns the organization has taken on. We’ll be offering you a catalogue of 21st century Black American history and showcasing the stories at the center of our work.

Each event we’ll highlight lifts up the power that you — our members — have flexed while shaping history for all Black Americans and our allies.This Black History Month we’re celebrating what our community has done to create a powerful online lobby that didn’t exist prior to the devastating hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast just over six years ago.

That’s right. It was more than six years ago when Kanye West gave his infamous monologue, spurring our team to respond with a powerful message. It may feel like ages ago, which is why it’s important to take these four weeks to reminisce on our heroes and our communities’ heroic actions. Ever since Dr. Carter G. Woodson organized the first “Negro History Week” in 1928, many have questioned whether we truly need a period of time devoted to recognizing African Americans’ accomplishments. The ColorOfChange staff believes that we must remember our roots and routes to this moment, especially given that some Americans are fixating on the “good ol’ days”. We’re not exactly sure when these good old days occurred, but the people who reference them seem to be talking about some time before the Civil Rights Movement.

Meanwhile, Tea Party members in Tennessee are rallying to “depict the lighter side of slavery” in Tennessee children’s schoolbooks. And in Tucson, AZ, the rhetoric of colorblindness and unity are being used to ban the teaching of certain books including, Critical Race TheoryRethinking Columbus, and Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. (Keep in mind that Tucson is only 35 minutes from the Mexican border). The teaching of books by Mumia Abu-Jamal, Howard Zinn and Jonathan Kozol has also been banned in the district. Read the rest of this entry →