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Educators Urge N.M. Retirement Board To Divest From For-Profit Prisons And Migrant Detention

Hannah Colton / KUNM
Protesters called for the release of prisoners and divestment of public funds from private prisons on UNM campus on August 7, 2020.

Calls for a major New Mexico retirement fund to drop investments in companies that operate private prisons and ICE detention may finally be answered this week. After over a year of pressure from a growing coalition of teachers and advocates, the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board could vote this Friday on a proposal to divest from GEO Group and Core Civic.

About twenty educators and prisoners' rights activists protested the harms of the carceral system last Friday at the University of New Mexico, a continuation of #FreeThemAll actions that have taken place weekly since early in the pandemic. Along with signs and banners, organizers brought a laptop so people could send public comments to the NMERB ahead of this week's board meeting.

People chanted: “Abolish the prisons! End the slavery systems! Abolish police! We are all we need!” They decried inhumane treatment of migrants and the warehousing of prisoners for profit, calling it a form of modern-day slavery.

Dair Obenshain, co-founder of Teachers Against Child Detention, is a music teacher in Albuquerque. She says for-profit prisons are against all that educators stand for, and that NMERB trustees have been resistant to their demands to divest.

"They claim that it’s fiscal responsibility that forces them to continue investing in private prisons, but before the COVID pandemic, those stocks in Geo Group and CoreCivic were losing a lot of money," Obenshain said. "So it’s not only morally reprehensible, but also fiscally irresponsible."

CoreCivic, formerly the Corrections Corporation of America, runs ICE detention centers in Cibola and Torrance Counties, as well as a state prison in Cibola County. GEO Group operates New Mexico prisons in Guadalupe and Lea Counties. 

Holdings in the two companies account for less than a million dollars of the $13 billion fund, reports the Las Cruces Sun-News.

The NMERB is expected to take up a proposal to divest from the private prison companies on Friday morning. Find the meeting information here.

Find more coverage of this issue in the Santa Fe Reporter:

CORRECTION 8/13, 2p: The original version of this story stated that the NMERB investment committee would decide Thursday whether the full board would vote on divestment. CIO Bob Jacksha said in the meeting Thursday that was incorrect, that the investment committee would make recommendations, and the board has divestment on their Friday agenda. 

Support for KUNM's public health coverage comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and listeners like you. 

Hannah served as news director at KUNM and reported on education, Albuquerque politics, and anything public health-related. She died in November 2020.
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