Bank of America, one of the nation’s largest financial institutions, announced that it would cease lending to the private prison industry.

The decision announced Wednesday makes Bank of America the last of Wall Street’s biggest banks to cut ties with private prisons, as corporate giants wrestle with whether to cash in on business opportunities tied to President Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policies, or to distance themselves amid increasing public pressure.

“The private sector is attempting to respond to public policy and government needs and demands in the absence of long standing and widely recognized reforms needed in criminal justice and immigration policies,” Bank of America said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Lacking further legal and policy clarity, and in recognition of the concerns of our employees and stakeholders in the communities we serve, it is our intention to exit these relationships.”

Dropping private prison companies is a way for banks, already targets of Democratic presidential candidates, to get out of the crossfire on another emotional issue, industry analysts have said. JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo made similar moves earlier this year, and U.S. Bank told The Post in March that it, too, was pulling back.

These moves come as big banks post record profits and the Trump administration rolls back regulations put in place after the global financial crisis. In 2018, Bank of America reported a record profit of $28.1 billion compared with $18 billion the previous year. It’s CEO, Brian Moynihan, made $22 million last year.

Although the announcement comes at a moment of heightened tension over the treatment of migrants in detention centers, with activists demanding accountability from companies profiting off them, Bank of America’s decision has been in the works for some time. It spent months consulting with civil rights leaders, academics, criminal justice experts and toured prison and detention facilities before deciding it was in the bank’s best interest to end its relationships with these companies “as expeditiously as possible.”

Shares of private prison giants GEO Group and CoreCivic – to which Bank of America also served as a chief financier – saw their shares sink more than 4 percent following the Bank of America announcement.

Reporting from the Miami Herald revealed in May that Bank of America was the chief financier of Caliburn, a private prison company that operates a detention center in Homestead, Florida, that holds roughly 2,300 unaccompanied migrant children. Bank of America gave Caliburn a $380 million loan, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, as well as a $75 million revolving credit line. Presidential candidates Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren – who last week introduced a proposal to ban private prisons and detention facilities – both visited the Homestead center Wednesday, hours before the first Democratic debate.

During Bank of America’s April annual shareholder meeting, company executives were confronted by activists about the bank’s “reputation to be a leading financier of private prisons.”

The company said at the time it was studying the topic. “It is a highly emotional issue, and we respect that,” said Andrew Plepler, the bank’s global head of environmental, social and governance. “Ultimately policymakers are going to have to take on the criminal justice issue more broadly, as well as immigration reform.”

The corporate accountability committee of Families Belong Together, a coalition of organizations fighting the Trump administration’s family separation policies, applauded Bank of America’s decision in a statement Wednesday.

“Today’s announcement by Bank of America to stop lending to the private prison industry and immigrant detention companies is an enormous victory for the millions of people and more than 100 organizations who have raised their voices, signed petitions, and protested at bank branches across the country to demand an end to financing the morally bankrupt private prison industry,” the organization wrote, adding it planned to increase pressure on other big banks like SunTrust to follow suit.

Moynihan is part of a lobbying group that expressed “serious concern” about how Trump’s immigration policies stirred employee anxiety and threatened to disrupt business operations, according to a letter the group, Business Roundtable, sent to then-head of Department of Homeland Security last summer.

Corporate profits off detention centers have been under scrutiny this week, with online furniture retailer Wayfair coming under fire after employees staged a walkout to protest the company’s sale of $200,000 in beds and other furniture to a Texas detention center.


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