Public Worker Pension Funds Invest in Private Prisons

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Millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are being invested into private prison operators involved in the detention of thousands of migrants, The Guardian reports. Some of the largest investments, which are by pension funds for public sector workers such as teachers and firefighters, come from states with “sanctuary” policies, such as New York, California and Oregon. Nationwide, at least 20 pension funds and plans have invested in Geo Group or CoreCivic, the two biggest private prison operators, finds a Guardian/Documented analysis of US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings. These funds range from big organizations like the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPers), which manages $81 billion in stock holdings, to the more modestly sized funds like the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board, which manages about $2.3 billion.

Public worker funds have at least $67 million invested in the two companies, according to filings from the first quarter of 2019. The two firms have become more attractive to investors after Donald Trump became president. The firms have secured contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which has turned to private operators as it has detained growing numbers of immigrants. One of Canada’s biggest pension funds divested from the two firms after the Guardian/Documented reported that the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board held nearly $8 million in stock in Geo Group and CoreCivic. In March, JPMorgan Chase & Co decided to stop financing private prison companies. This week SunTrust Bank announced it would be ceasing to do business with the private prison industry. Last month Bank of America did the same. Some funds said maximizing returns was their focus, not social concerns. “We’re not a social investor. We want to get the best return while managing risk,” said Beau Barnes of the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System.

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