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Saturday, February 1, 2020

Rhode Island tries investment leverage to resolve issues at private prison in Central Falls

Treasurer Magaziner urges Wyatt bondholder Invesco to address community concerns over prison

Image result for wyatt detention center protest

Rhode Island Treasurer Seth Magaziner has sent a letter to Invesco CEO Martin Flanagan, over concerns with the situation at the Donald D Wyatt Detention Facility in the City of Central Falls, Rhode Island.

Invesco runs Rhode Island’s CollegeBound Saver and CollegeBound 529 plans, and is also the majority bondholder for the Wyatt Detention Facility following the company’s merger with Oppenheimer in 2019.

Magaziner was approached by activists with AMOR (Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance) and agreed to meet with them to discuss their concerns. On January 29, Magaziner sent the following letter to Invesco:

Martin Flanagan, CEO
Invesco Global Headquarters
1555 Peachtree St NE, Suite 1800
Atlanta, GA 30309

Mr. Flanagan

I write to express my concern with the situation at the Donald D Wyatt Detention Facility in the City of Central Falls, Rhode Island.

With 19,000 residents occupying just 1.3 square miles, Central Falls is the smallest and most densely populated city in Rhode Island. Despite its small size, Central Falls maintains a strong community and a rich culture that is diverse and inclusive.

In recent years, members of the Central Falls community, including Mayor James Diossa and the City Council, have expressed growing concerns with policies and practices at the Wyatt that are contrary to the values of their community.

Wyatt began housing detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2005. Concerns over operating conditions in the prison emerged in 2008 when an ICE detainee died in custody. ICE withdrew its remaining detainees later that year and the chair of the board that oversees the prison was fired after saying: “I’m looking at it like I’m running a Motel 6… I don’t care if it’s Guantanamo Bay. We want to fill the beds.”1

In 2019, the Wyatt began housing ICE detainees once again. Members of the community, remembering lessons learned a decade prior, gathered to protest the decision. Their advocacy was met with violence when a veteran Wyatt guard drove his pickup truck into a crowd of protestors.

City leaders and community members have asked the leadership of the Wyatt to cease housing ICE detainees and to reform its practices, but have been told that the possibility for such reforms is limited by the Wyatt’s obligation to bondholders.

As you and I discussed over the phone on January 12, 2020, Invesco became the majority bondholder for the Wyatt Detention Facility following your merger with Oppenheimer in 2019. As one of Rhode Island’s business partners, you know the importance of maintaining positive relationships with the populations we jointly serve. I ask you work with relevant stakeholders to take any measures available to address the concerns of community members in the Wyatt dispute.

Seth Magaziner

Invesco is not the only bondholder for the Wyatt Detention Center/ Here’s a list:

  • Invesco Ltd $49,155,000
  • T Rowe Price Group Inc $17,200,000
  • Eaton Vance Corp $10,825,000
  • Credit Agricole Group $9,320,000
  • BlackRock Inc $8,345,000
  • Legg Mason Inc $980,000
The T Rowe Price and BlackRock are the other two Wyatt Bondholders currently doing business with the State of Rhode Island. These two companies are investment options in the state’s 457 plans.

The companies don’t maintain the plans, the plans are actually run by Fidelity and Voya. Fidelity and Voya have to bid for that business and the state is required by statute to offer three and only three 457 plans. (The third 457 provider is TIAA.)

Rhode Island has no money invested in the Wyatt bonds, at least not directly.

Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.