Resources Committee issues report on private prison divestment

The Princeton committee that advises the Board of Trustees on divestment issues has decided not to recommend that the University divest from private prison companies.

The Resources Committee, which began examining private prisons in spring 2016 after a student coalition raised the issue, issued its report (PDF) on the matter Friday, April 20.

The Resources Committee reported that Princeton has not invested for many years — either directly or indirectly — in the 11 detention corporations, private prisons or affiliated contractors from which the student coalition recommended divestiture.

“The committee’s deliberations over the past two years attest to the complexity of the issue of private prisons,” the report says. “Our attention to the issue has motivated multiple paths of inquiry and generated numerous discussions, with robust arguments on both sides.”

The Resources Committee is a committee of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC). The committee considers questions of general policy on financial resources and provides a venue for examining issues related to the University’s endowment portfolio, including concerns related to socially responsible investments.

“Our committee concurred that the broader criminal justice system, which includes both public and private prisons, needs large-scale amelioration,” the committee report states. “But we did not arrive at sufficient consensus to recommend divestment from private prisons.

“About half the committee was in favor of divestment from private prisons, and the other half was against it. ... Given the lack of consensus on the appropriate divestment action to take, we were of the shared view that we could not move forward with a divestment recommendation.”

The report concluded, “It is our committee’s hope and belief, however, that research and debate about mass incarceration — and the role of private prisons in it — should continue at Princeton.”

The University has taken divestment actions on two topics: apartheid in South Africa and genocide in Sudan. In 1969, the University divested from South African companies. In the 1980s, it selectively divested from some companies that operated in South Africa. In 2006 it divested from select companies that operated in Sudan.

For the 2017-2018 academic year, the Resources Committee was chaired by Professor Blair Schoene (Geosciences). Other members included Professors Bo Honoré (Economics) and Michael Littman (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering); Colette Johnson, GS; William Pugh ’20; Grace Obiofuma ’18; Janet Finnie ’84, University Health Services; Carolyn Ainslie, VP for Finance and Treasurer. Susan Ciniglio ’09, a senior associate at the Princeton University Investment Co. (PRINCO), sat with the committee. Brandon Gaines, Finance and Treasury, and Cecily Swanson, Mathey College, provided staff support.