Georgia’s largest bank to sever ties with private prison industry

SunTrust was founded in Atlanta in 1891 as Commercial Travelers' Savings Bank. It later became Trust Co. of Georgia. In 1919, Trust Co. was an underwriter for the Coca-Cola Co. and one of the earliest holders of Coke’s stock. For decades, Trust Co. and later SunTrust, secured the beverage giant’s secret formula in its vault, until the formula was moved to the World of Coca-Cola. SunTrust secured naming rights a few years ago for the Braves' new stadium in Cobb County. SunTrust Banks announced February 7 i

SunTrust’s move follows similar decisions from other banking giants

SunTrust Banks, the Atlanta-based banking giant that is set to merge with rival BB&T, announced Monday that it would no longer provide financing to companies that operate prisons and immigration detention centers, becoming the latest lender to cut ties with the private corrections industry.

The announcement came amid reports that migrant children have been held in overcrowded and unhealthy federal detention facilities. President Donald Trump denied those reports Sunday on Twitter, calling them “phony and exaggerated.”

“First of all, people should not be entering our Country illegally, only for us to then have to care for them. We should be allowed to focus on … United States Citizens first,” he tweeted. “Border Patrol, and others in Law Enforcement, have been doing a great job.”

The corrections companies affected by the bank’s decision defended themselves, accusing SunTrust of bending to political pressure and not examining the facts.

SunTrust did not specify what prompted its move, though its decision followed an online petition drive from various activist groups opposing the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies.

Bank of America staked out a similar position last month, just days after Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced her plans for banning private prisons. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. made similar commitments earlier this year.

“Following an ongoing and deliberate process, SunTrust has decided not to provide future financing to companies that manage private prisons and immigration holding facilities,” SunTrust said in a prepared statement. “This decision was made after extensive consideration of the views of our stakeholders on this deeply complex issue.”

The largest bank in Georgia, SunTrust is also No. 1 in metro Atlanta in terms of deposits and has about 8,000 employees in the state. It plans to combine this year with BB&T, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based lender that has a regional hub in Atlantic Station and ranks fourth in total deposits and retail locations in the metro area. The $66 billion all-stock combination will create the sixth-largest bank in the U.S. A BB&T spokesman said the bank does not provide financing to the private prison industry.

The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond to requests for comment Monday. The federal Bureau of Prisons declined to comment.

Some of the Peach State’s largest industries are routinely pulled into fiery debates over public policy. For example, Hollywood studios have warned of economic consequences since Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law new abortion restrictions this year. But the powerful Georgia companies that have fiercely opposed a “religious liberty” measure for Georgia have stayed mum about the anti-abortion law.

Businesses face risks weighing in on hot-button issues. Last year, Delta Air Lines severed marketing ties with the National Rifle Association, which infuriated some conservatives and prompted each of the leading Republican candidates for governor to oppose a tax exemption for jet fuel that was worth tens of millions of dollars to the Atlanta-based airline.

Wall Street banks, including SunTrust, have credit arrangements totaling $2.6 billion with two large corrections companies, Nashville-based CoreCivic and Boca Raton, Fla.-based GEO Group, according to a report released in April by In the Public Interest, the Public Accountability Initiative, and the Center for Popular Democracy.

CoreCivic, which has 1,581 employees in Georgia, operates the sprawling Stewart Detention Center, a federal immigration holding facility in South Georgia. GEO Group has 1,200 workers in Georgia and operates the Folkston ICE Processing Center, an immigration detention facility near the Georgia-Florida border. It also runs the Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility in Lovejoy, where ICE began holding some of its detainees last year.

Both companies criticized SunTrust’s decision and underscored that they do not detain children.

“Like others before it, this decision is about caving to political pressure based on false and misleading statements about our company,” CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist said. “Despite claims of a thorough review process, these banks have kowtowed to a small group of activists rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue about the facts.”

Gilchrist added that SunTrust has “a contractual obligation to continue working with our company through the expiration of our mutual agreement in 2023. We fully expect SunTrust and others to honor their commitments.” Suntrust declined to comment on that.

GEO released a prepared statement saying, “misleading political activism has been allowed to impact a decade-long banking relationship.”

“The divestment efforts against our company are based on a false narrative,” GEO said, “and a deliberate mischaracterization of our role as a long-standing government services provider.”

Monday, the Families Belong Together Corporate Accountability Committee, made up of more than 100 organizations, called on other banks to follow SunTrust’s lead.

“SunTrust’s decision to stop new financing to the private prison industry and immigrant detention companies is a testament to the growing strength of our movement and the power of everyday people standing up for what’s right,” the committee said in a statement. “Millions of people and more than 100 organizations have made their voices heard, signed petitions, as well as protested bank branches and headquarters to demand an end to financing an industry profiting from the caging of people of color and immigrants.”


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has extensively covered the debate over immigration enforcement, publishing numerous articles about the federal immigration detention centers located Georgia and the companies that operate them. Read our coverage on

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