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Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign Publishes Report, Renews Demands

University Hall houses several administrative offices.
University Hall houses several administrative offices. By Thomas Maisonneuve
By Alexandra A. Chaidez and Aidan F. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign released a report Wednesday that estimated the University has at least $3 million invested in companies tied to the prison industry and urged administrators to divest all their endowment holdings from prison-related companies.

In their report, the campaign — launched in 2017 to call for the dismantling of the United States prison system — also called on the University to disclose to Harvard affiliates all endowment holdings in companies connected to the prison industry.

“We have more questions than answers about the 96% of the endowment invested in private holdings; these asset classes are relatively unregulated (compared to public assets) and frustratingly obscure,” the report reads.

HPDC listed certain companies they claim Harvard has invested in that could presumably impact incarcerated individuals. The list includes private prison operators, like CoreCivic and Geo Group, and other businesses that in some way service prisons, including Amazon, Bank of America, and Honeywell International Inc.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement that University President Lawrence S. Bacow has met with Harvard affiliates advocating for prison divestment and looks forward to meeting with them again in the future.

“President Bacow has met with advocates for prison divestment. He has also invited them to meet with members of the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility and looks forward to further discussion,” Newton wrote.

HPDC is scheduled to meet with Bacow and the Corporation’s Committee on Shareholder Responsibility on Oct. 28, according to HPDC member Paul T. Clarke. The CCSR helps to determine the University’s stance on matters related to social responsibility in its investment decisions.

Clarke said group members pushed to ensure that the meeting with high-level leaders allowed for enough of their members and administrators to attend.

He also noted the group will bring the details of their report to the meeting with Bacow and other members of the Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — to inform the conversation.

“Honestly, we're going into this meeting as optimistic as we've ever been as a campaign,” Clarke said. “We have an expectation that they will actually start to begin the process of divestment.”

The report outlines its own plan for the University to divest from prison-related companies, writing that the University would first approach its fund managers in the Harvard Management Company and instruct them to locate “problematic” investments guided by a list provided by HPDC. Managers would then report to Harvard what those investments are, and then begin the process of divestment, reporting on their progress annually.

“We show how Harvard can and must be the first university to divest fully from the prison-industrial complex,” the report reads.

The report does not provide much guidance for how to disentangle from mutual funds where they cannot dictate screening companies for ties to the prison industry, writing that the University should “make and report on best efforts to find alternative funds/vehicles.” They also propose Harvard should work with similar institutions who want to divest from companies tied to the prison industry.

“Harvard can help convene a market for new pooled products that screen out companies profiting from the prison industrial complex,” the report reads. “This would be a gradual process, but considering Harvard’s position, it would not take very long to embark on the first steps.”

The group also wrote that they want Harvard to reinvest in companies, organizations, or initiatives in Cambridge and Boston that are “directly impacted by the prison-industrial complex.”

“We demand that Harvard disclose and divest, but we also demand that it reinvest in the communities that have borne the burden and violence of incarceration, enslavement, policing and control since the founding of this school in 1636,” the report reads.

Clarke said at least a dozen people contributed an “incredible amount of time and labor” to writing and editing the report starting this past summer.

“We’ve done what Harvard should have done for itself a really long time ago, to really take an accounting of what these investments are,” Clarke said. “It's unfortunate that there isn't a sense of responsibility within the administration to kind of do this work thoroughly.”

“It kind of falls on students to do that, to keep them accountable,” he added.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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