NY Pension Fund to Divest Private Prison Holdings

New York State Common Retirement Fund owns stakes in GEO Group, CoreCivic.

New York State Controller Thomas DiNapoli has approved a new policy that calls for the $206.9 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund’s to purge its investments in companies that own or operate private prisons.

“The updated policy applies to all asset classes of the New York State Common Retirement Fund and will eliminate the fund’s direct holdings in private prison companies,” Jennifer Freeman, director of communications for the Office of the State Comptroller, said in an emailed statement. “Because of the limited size of these holdings, imposing these restrictions will not negatively impact the fund.”

The size of the state’s investment is a drop in the bucket, as less than $10 million of the fund’s nearly $207 billion in assets is invested in prison companies. As of June, the fund owned shares of private prison operators The GEO Group, Inc. and CoreCivic valued at $5.8 million and $3.8 million, respectively.

The Geo Group expects full-year 2018 total revenue to be approximately $2.3 billion, and has a stock market capitalization of $3.28 billion. CoreCivic has annual revenues of $1.77 billion, and has a market capitalization of $2.9 billion.

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The fund says it has restricted investments in private prisons since 1999, and that the state comptroller updated the list of companies subject to the restrictions in 2016.

Last year, New York City became the first major public pension system in the US to fully divest from private prison companies. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and the trustees of the New York City Pension Funds said they made the decision in response to allegations of human rights abuses within the private prison industry.

A 2016 audit from the US Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General found that private prisons have far higher rates of security and safety incidents per capita than comparable public institutions. Private prison companies also operate private immigration detention centers, where as many as 65% of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees are held, according to Stringer’s office.

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the New York state legislature that would prohibit the state’s pension fund from investing in stocks, securities, or other obligations of any for-profit institution that manages prisons. The bill would require the state comptroller to divest any stocks of prison companies, whether they are owned directly, or held through separate accounts or commingled funds.

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