Not With Our Money! campaign

"Our mission is to create and offer services that contribute to a more pleasant way of life for people wherever and whenever they come together." - Pierre Bellon, Chairman and CEO of Sodexho Alliance

"If You Build It, They Will Come" - motto, Corrections Corporation of America

On March 28, 1998, the French multinational Sodexho Alliance (SA) took over the North American operations of Marriott Management Services from the Marriott Group. The merger made the new corporation, Sodexho Marriott Services (SMS), the largest institutional provider of food services in North America, with $4.5 billion in annual revenues. Unfortunately, it has also made students unwitting accomplices to the biggest corporate crime of the last decade: the incarceration of people for the sake of profit.

The new Sodexho Marriott looks a lot like the old Marriott: same bad food, same high prices, same low wages. The crucial difference, however, lies in what Sodexho does with its money. Rather than simply investing in hotels or fast-food chains, Sodexho uses part of its revenues to finance expansion of a modern-day slave trade: for-profit private prisons. Sodexho's holdings in Prison Realty Trust/Corrections Corporation of America-11% as of the most recent Securities and Exchange Commission filings-make Sodexho the leading investor in the world's biggest for-profit prison company.

Students have special reason to be concerned about Sodexho's investment priorities. After all, SMS rakes in $1.2 billion each year from the 400+ campuses where they are contracted to provide food services. This means that students, some of whom are required by their schools to take a meal plan, are being used to fund the expansion of a company with a history of corruption, mismanagent and human rights abuses which rivals that of the worst sweatshop owners, or the Apartheid government of South Africa.. To most Americans, "for-profit, private prison" sounds like a contradiction in terms-as ridiculous as replacing police with "rent-a-cops." Nevertheless, for the past fifteen years, Wall Street traded companies like Corrections Corporation of America and Wackenhut have been quietly cashing in on the nation's rapidly growing prison population, which now exceeds two million.

While the industry's lobbyists trumpet private prisons as a new, cost-saving innovation, incarceration-for-profit is nothing new. Before the establishment of state and Federal prison systems, for-profit facilities were commonly used as a source of slave labor, especially in the South. Following Emancipation, thousands of African Americans were "convicted" and sent back to work the plantations where they had lived as slaves. Jailers often collected one fee from the state or county and another from the employers, making for-profit prisons a very lucrative business. The conditions of these facilities were so inhumane that one in every three inmates died, and public pressure eventually forced their closure.

The track record of contemporary private prisons suggests that the same greed, inhumanity and incompetence characterize the industry today. Private prisons tend to be poorly managed and largely unregulated, while private prison guards are underpaid, unorganized and minimally trained. As a consequence, mistreatment of prisoners and escapes are all too common. The following are just a few examples of "business as usual" at CCA:

  • In CCA's most infamous disaster, one inmate was killed and six maximum-security inmates escaped in broad daylight. The murder occurred after repeated attempts by the victim's wife to warn CCA authorities that her husband was in danger, while the escape followed repeated attempts by officials to investigate conditions at the prison. CCA refused to allow state and local officials to enter the prison and continued to deny that the facility housed maximum-security inmates until the day of the escape.
  • At a CCA facility in Tennessee, prison officials delayed taking a pregnant woman to a hospital, allowing her to suffer for 12 hours until she died from an undiagnosed complication.
  • The Colorado ACLU filed suit against CCA's private prisoner transport company on behalf of a woman who claimed that members of the all-male transport crew sexually assaulted her repeatedly during her five-day trip from Texas to Colorado.
  • After a non-violent protest at a CCA-run Immigration and Naturalization Service detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a man who had come to this country seeking political asylum was admitted to the hospital, where doctors identified boot-cleat marks on his face.

The dirty secret of the private prison industry, is that while the profits end up in the hands of a few corporations, all of the rest of us pay the social costs. Eventually, nearly all of CCA's inmates will return to public life; will the time they spent in dangerous and inhumane prisons make us safer? So what can you do? Get organized!

Find out when the campus dining contract comes up for renewal, and start organizing to kick SMS off campus. Research contract violations; for example, some SMS dining halls at State University of NY at Albany failed recent health inspections (there were multiple incidences of rat droppings).

Refuse to do business with SMS. Demand to get off the dining plan and get your money back. Encourage others to do the same. Look into alternatives to the student meal plan: food co-ops, brown baggin' lunch, eating off campus, etc.

Think of ways to call attention to SMS' insidious prison profiteering: Op-eds in campus and local newspapers; guerrilla theater in the dining halls, dorms and in other student spaces; setting up benefit shows with prison-privatization or anti-SMS themes; go around the dorms and get petitions and/or letters signed. Be creative and look for every opportunity to get your message out. Considering how much students pay SMS and how little they get, SMS is a ripe target for a student movement that will stand up to their greed.

For More Information: contact the Not With Our Money Campaign/Prison Moratorium Project, c/o DSA, 180 Varick St., 12th Floor, NY, NY 10014; (212)727-8610, ext.23.
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