DCPS should drop Sodexo, a private prison contractor

Graphic by Hamadi Belgachi

Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger and Ava Ahmann

Throughout the year, if you have ever looked out the windows facing the front of the school, you’ve likely spotted a white SodexoMAGIC van making its usual route. And if you had scrolled through your Instagram feed, you could have read the stories of one of largest collective prison strikes in history, taking place at different federal prisons across the country and the world in September. This month, eight inmates in an Alabama prison went on strike to protest the inhumane use of solitary confinement as a preventative measure. SodexoMAGIC, who provides our school lunch, is a key player in the private prison system both here and abroad, making them an unsuitable partner for DCPS.

SodexoMAGIC once owned shares in the Corrections Corporation of America (now known as CoreCivic), which operates many of the private prisons in the U.S. They sold their shares in 2001, but they have left behind a trail of breadcrumbs pointing to their active participation in prison culture. They operate in conjunct with several prisons worldwide and go as far as to own private prisons themselves.

Private prisons are run for profit as contractors for the federal government, meaning the more beds filled, the more money for those involved. In 2014, The Bureau of Prisons paid $639 million to private prisons, an average of $22,159 per prisoner. This incentivization of imprisonment, often to the detriment of facilities and quality of life in prison, has only allowed companies to profit off the epidemic of mass incarceration in the United States.

SodexoMAGIC runs immigration detention centers out of the United Kingdom, and a total of 122 prisons in an estimated eight countries. In 2016, HMP Northumberland, a private prison operated by SodexoMAGIC, was implicated in a BBC UK investigation as wildly out of control. The undercover journalist described that, “Instead of the rehabilitation programmes it is supposed to offer, the prison was effectively compelled to focus solely on risk management.”

Even SodexoMAGIC providing foods to private prisons doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Private for-profit prisons are a form of modernized slavery, where inmates are kept in abhorrent conditions, sentenced to solitary confinement for inordinate amounts of time, beaten, raped, degraded, and put to work in dangerous conditions. Inmates are frequently paid less than a dollar an hour for their labor. By supplying prisons with food, SodexoMAGIC adds to the constructed “legitimacy” of private for-profit prisons, solidifying the idea that it is morally reprehensible to allow for the mass incarceration and exploitation of Black and brown people. Prisons with major partnerships with multi-national organizations such as SodexoMAGIC, gain credibility.

The U.S. prison system has targeted Black men since the writing of the 13th Amendment, which made slavery illegal, except when used as punishment for a crime. Our nation holds a long and bloody history of arresting Black and brown men for nonviolent offenses, sentencing them to die in prison, all the while putting them to back-breaking, exploitative work. Any company that participates in the privatized prison apparatus has blood on its hands.

Despite SodexoMAGIC’s monopoly on meal plans, it’s time for educational institutions, particularly public ones, to understand that a change in business partners is needed. Public pressure is what forced SodexoMAGIC to make a change in their company ethics nearly 20 years ago, and it can be done again. DCPS can help shift prison culture if they invest their money elsewhere. While the blame is difficult to place on our current administrators, the responsibility is not. A change can and should be made.

The next time you punch in your student ID number to get lunch, think of the incarcerated people eating the same food. We should not stand for SodexoMAGIC’s management of private prisons overseas, or their involvement in the private prison system here in the U.S. DCPS, it is time to drop SodexoMAGIC. •