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Students sit in against prisons

By Sarah Sloan

On Dec. 5, hundreds of Ithaca College students took over the school's Office of Admissions to protest corporate investment in privately owned U.S. prisons. Seven students maintained a 34-hour sit-in. Others, locked outside by the administration, remained to support them.

On Dec. 7, over 100 Buffalo State College students and community members rallied for the same demand. Forty students occupied an administration building for two hours until they won a meeting with the college vice-president.

Ithaca College, Buffalo State College and over 500 other colleges and universities hold food service contracts with Sodexho-Marriot. Sodexho-Marriot makes $1.2 billion annually from these contracts.

According to press releases issued by the students, 48 percent of Sodexho-Marriot is owned by Sodexho-Alliance, a French transnational corporation. Sodexho-Alliance is one of the world's largest investors in private prisons in the U.S., England and Australia. It is the single largest investor in Corrections of America, a corporation that owns private prisons.

These students are demanding that their colleges break their contracts with Sodexho-Marriot. Plans are set for an April 4 Day of Action.

At Ithaca, more than 24 hours into the occupation, the executive assistant to the president of Ithaca College forcibly removed one protester. A few hours later, 12 more students began a sit-in at Alumni Hall in solidarity with the initial action.

Late on the second day, Ithaca College's president agreed to meet with students. The college granted four of their demands: student participation in the college's review of its contract with Sodexho-Marriot; a meeting with the trustees to discuss the contract; a community forum sponsored by the college to discuss the issue of private prisons, and a letter addressing student concerns written personally by the president to the corporation and the college community.

The Ithaca College president has been flooded with letters of support for student demands.

'Blood money'

Workers World spoke with Kevin Pranis, a board member of the Prison Moratorium Project who took part in the Ithaca College sit-in. Pranis reported that more than 50 campuses have taken up a campaign against their colleges' contracts with Sodexho.

"These sit-ins are part of a growing movement against private prisons, corporate investment in them and prison expansion in general," said Pranis. "This involves prison activists, students of color organizations, the anti-sweatshop movement and student-labor activists."

Monica Moorehead, WWP presidential candidate and a leader of Millions for Mumia and the International Action Center, explained: "These investments are very similar to the U.S. investments made into the South African apartheid system. These investments helped to strengthen and sustain the extreme system and conditions of racism for millions of oppressed Black South Africans.

"The same holds true of the investments in prisons," she continued. "This blood money that strengthens the slave labor for super-profits inside the prisons threatens the livelihood of every worker who is attempting to make a decent wage."

In addition, "Slave labor inside these prisons constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and needs to be opposed on every level--including by presidents of colleges and universities who are concerned with humanitarian issues. "

Moorehead concluded, "Instead of building prisons, those monies should be put into building universities to insure that everyone receives a decent education."

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