In a recent story in The New Mexican (“SFPS wants state pension fund to divest from private prisons,” Nov. 24), the views of New Mexico Educational Retirement Board Executive Director Jan Goodwin were stated without educators’ responses to her remarks.
As the coordinator of Santa Fe Public Schools’ Adelante program, which serves more than 750 families, with over half living with mixed immigration status, I can tell you from personal experience the impact of private, for-profit prisons on our students.
We often work with families who have a breadwinner in detention, which wreaks havoc on the health and well-being of the family. The private detention centers do not communicate well with the families, so no one is aware of what’s happening with their loved ones. Often, letters get lost and are never received. It can cost $1 per minute to make a call to the family from private detention and, if you make $1 per day working in the facility, it takes many weeks just to speak with your children for a few minutes. Legal representation is spotty, due to the prohibitive cost and rural locations. The overcrowding and lack of oversight in the private, for-profit prisons also creates hazardous conditions, and former detainees have reported maltreatment.
For instance, about 10 days ago, The New Mexican ran an article (“Detainees say ICE put them in solitary for hunger strikes,” Nov. 17) and editorial (“Conditions in ICE facilities must be investigated,” Our View, Nov. 20) about the Cuban asylum-seekers who were mistreated and placed in solitary for extended time. These detainees were in Otero County and Cibola, both private, for-profit detention centers.
There is no good reason why New Mexican educators should be forced through their pension funds to support these prisons and detention centers. It does not align with educators’ values, and I think most people in our state would disagree with making profits off the suffering of children and their families.
I find it difficult to believe that, as Goodwin says, divestment would use more of the state’s Educational Retirement Board staff time to accurately calculate their stocks in the Standard & Poor’s 400 Index. Even if this were true, we can sacrifice a little time and money to ensure that our pension funds are aligned with preventing cruelty against human beings. These are our students and neighbors — investment in private, for-profit prisons is counter to all the values and practices that we teach our students and expect from educators.
If you want more information about the growing state movement to divest the $1 million from our $13 billion pension fund, visit prisondivestsfdp.org. Public school, secondary educators and community members are all welcome to sign the petition to the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board.
Attiana Virella-Fuentes is the coordinator for the Santa Fe Public Schools Adelante program serving students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.