Students Fed Up With Prison Profits

By Mark Harrison, TNC contributing writer

A 32-hour sit-in forced the Office of Administration at Ithaca College to shut down in December 2000 when dozens of students demanded that their food dollars not be used to finance prisons for profit. Protesters called upon the College in New York State to terminate its catering contract with Sodexho Marriott Management because food sales revenue helps fund Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a large private-prison corporation with a lamentable history of prisoner abuse and neglect.

Sodexho Alliance is the parent company of Sodexho Marriott Management and the largest institutional investor in CCA. Sodexho Alliance CEO Pierre Bellon says, "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." But Sodexho's mission failed for the pregnant woman in the Tennessee CCA prison who suffered for 12 hours in excruciating pain while waiting for medical attention for an undiagnosed complication. The investor failed in a quest for a "more pleasant way of life" for the young woman who was sexually assaulted for five days by an all-male CCA transport crew while being moved from a Texas prison to a lockup in Colorado.

Sodexho's investment strategy fell short of providing a "more pleasant way of life" for the widow of the inmate who was murdered even after she had repeatedly warned CCA staff that her imprisoned husband's life was in danger. These stories are just a few of the documented incidents that have occurred in prisons operated by CCA, facilities often staffed with underpaid and minimally-trained guards, where government regulations are few. These stories suggest that the true mission of Sodexho is the same as any for-profit business, to increase the bottom line, no matter what. That's profiteering in massive human warehousing in plain terms.

Since the Sodexho Alliance merger with Marriott Management Services in March of 1998, forty-eight cents on every food dollar spent in over 400 campuses has benefited the private prison investor. In January the company proposed a $900 million take-over of Sodexho Marriott Management which means that one hundred cents out of every dollar would capitalize Sodexho Alliance. Approximately $3.6 billion has been funneled from colleges to the French-owned catering group in three years. The cash offer to purchase all remaining Sodexho Marriott Management stock opens formally at the end of March when a "standstill agreement" expires. Sodexho Alliance has an 8 percent stake in CCA, according to latest SEC filings, and last September the catering giant entered into an agreement to acquire 100 percent of the UK Detention Services and Corrections Corporations of Australia. The catering behemoth is heavily invested in privatized prisons, and college students may easily become unwitting conspirators in a plot that proves crime pays.

Students in the US and Canada who are organized under the Not With Our Money! Campaign have criticized the Sodexho buy-out saying it will be easier for the catering conglomerate to finance the scandal-ridden private prison industry with student dollars. And like Ithaca, many colleges require the purchase of a meal plan so those students are forced to capitalize Corrections Corporations of America.

Appropriately, administration officials at Ithaca College have now agreed to review the school's catering policy and to include students in the decision-making process. Similar protests have resulted in the expulsion of Sodexho Marriott Management from Evergreen State College in Washington State, the State University of New York at Albany, Goucher College in Maryland and James Madison University in Virginia.

The proposed Sodexho buy-out will not change the strategy of organizers who will continue to stage protests that are scheduled to culminate on the Students Day of Action on April 4. Food boycotts, guerrilla theater, public forums and other direct actions will take place on approximately 25 Canadian and US campuses, and there will be solidarity demonstrations overseas. Ali Fischer, president of the two million member U.S.
Student Association, says the issue resonates with students because "We've seen children horribly abused in private facilities ... we've seen higher education budgets slashed to build unnecessary prisons. We don't want more of our dining dollars to feed this corrupt industry."

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