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
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
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 / www.nomoreprisons.org/nwom.htm