Activists Urge Florida Democrats to Return Donations From Private Prison Contractor

June 27, 2019, 11:31 PM UTC
Dream Defenders / Twitter Dream Defenders / Twitter
Dream Defenders / Twitter

In an open letter to the Florida Democratic Party, a coalition of organizers, workers, students, and teachers is urging the party to return donations it received from the private prison contractor, G4S Secure Solutions.

Last year, activists were able to successfully pressure Florida Democrats to sign a resolution promising to stop taking money from private prison corporations and their respective lobbies, despite some internal backlash within the party. But the Florida Democratic Party accepted a $10,000 donation from G4S in February of this year.

G4S offers a number of controversial security services. In 2014, G4S was under scrutiny for providing surveillance equipment to Israeli checkpoints and prisons. The company has provided services to U.S. prisons, transporting incarcerated people between prisons; and runs immigrant detention centers in other countries.

The more than 40 activist groups and community leaders that signed on to the open letter argued that “no person deserves to be locked in a cage for a profit.” As such, the signees demanded that the Florida Democratic Party “exercise moral leadership and authority by immediately giving back the $10,000 donation.”

Organizations that signed on to the letter include Dream Defenders, a nonprofit that organizes around freedom and liberation in Florida; the Florida Immigrant Coalition; the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida; and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a committee of the Industrial Workers of the World that helped plan a nationwide prison strike last summer.

For-profit detention centers are “one of the most pervasive evils spreading in the U.S.,” Thomas Kennedy, the political director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition told Fortune. “We’re completely opposed to the idea that people could be detained for a profit motive.”

Signees of the open letter say the party violated the resolution by accepting the donation from G4S.

Some Democrats have attempted to build their bases around a liberal anti-Trump resistance movement, repeatedly calling attention to and condemning the president’s family separation policies and detention of child immigrants.

But even as Democrats publicly denounce these policies, they are “privately profiting off of the very system that keeps people in cages,” an activist with Dream Defenders said in a statement on Instagram. “This ain’t a good look and we, the people deserve better.”

In 2018, Dream Defenders was able to collect pledges from Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman-Schulz and Charlie Crist to not accept money from private prisons. All four of the Democratic candidates who ran for governor in 2018 pledged the same.

The Florida Democratic Party did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story.

“The Party voted to be on the right side of history and to cut ties with a multi-billion dollar industry that profits from separating our families and putting children and poor people into cages,” organizers wrote in the letter. Activists further argued that the party’s decision to accept money from the private prison contractor “goes against everything we stand for as community members who value life, the environment, and safety for all people.”

Activists who signed the open letter urged the party to immediately return the funds and meet with civil rights and advocacy groups to develop guidelines for how it accepts campaign contributions in the future.

“The best thing for [Florida Democrats] to do would be to donate the money to organizations fighting for immigrant rights or criminal justice reforms,” said Kennedy, who added that advocates want Democratic representatives to honor their values.

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