By Mary Kuhlman
Human rights advocates are deploying a new digital tool to help convince corporations to stop profiting from mass incarceration.
More than 2.4 million people are behind bars in the U.S. - more than any other nation, according to the American Friends Service Committee.
Dalit Baum, AFSC's director of economic activism, is set to unveil the committee's new platform - called Investigate - at the annual Sustainable Responsible Impact Investments conference this week in Colorado.
She says prisons, funded by taxpayers, are big business for private companies.
"There is plenty of evidence of corporate power being used in order to change legislation, create harsher incarceration terms, build more prisons," she maintains. "These corporations have a stake in mass incarceration."
In 2010, the Council of State Governments Justice Center projected Indiana's prison population to increase 21 percent by 2017.
Baum says the web application is more than an information site - for the first time, people will be able to scan their investment portfolios and find out if they are invested in the prison industry.
She's hopeful the platform will give investors and consumers the information they need to decide whether or not to support companies making money on mass incarceration.
Baum says a lot of people are already familiar with high profile private prison companies, such as the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group.
But she says this new tool helps expose firms people might not realize operate throughout the industry, including transportation and telephone companies, food and probation services.
"And you can use it in order to upload a list of holdings," she adds. "Your school, if you're a student or faculty - upload it to our tool and it will highlight potentially problematic companies."
Baum says the Investigate platform is available on any mobile device or computer connected to the Internet. She says the program also provides in depth research on companies, including actions other groups have already taken - such as divesting portfolios or boycotts - to encourage corporations to stop profiting from private prisons.