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Pension Fund Trustees: Assess the risk to funds from private prison holdings

Private prisons and detention facilities, as well as companies that provide services to them, have faced increased scrutiny, negative headlines, and legislative perils related to both their business practices and human rights concerns. This brief can assist pension fund trustees in assessing the risk to their funds from private prison holdings.
Published: 06/22/2020

A number of pension funds have divested their holdings from private prisons recently, including the New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS), the New York State Common Retirement Fund, and the City of Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement. This brief is available to pension fund trustees to assist them in assessing the risk to their funds from private prison holdings. A sample letter with questions to ask about private prison investments, a list of resources, and further reading is available below. 

What Can Trustees Do?

Assess Risk: Direct fund staff to review the fund’s portfolio for direct and indirect exposure to human rights issues and other dangers posed by private prisons.

Engage: Work with fund staff to lead engagement with both asset managers and individual companies in the portfolio to address the investment risks and human rights impacts of providing services to ICE or other federal agencies involved in enforcing the "Zero Tolerance" immigration policies. The Investor Alliance for Human Rights recommends this question as a starting point:

"Has the company or financial institution made explicit commitments to respect human rights, for example, through the development of a human rights policy commitment to respect internationally recognized human rights, including those found in the International Bill of Human Rights, the labor rights contained in the ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and the rights outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Refugees?"

Develop, Refine "Investment Beliefs": If your fund has adopted Investment Beliefs, review them for language addressing private prison companies explicitly, or human rights and the rights of children more broadly. If this language is not there, or your fund has not adopted Investment Beliefs, start the process of amending or adopting them.

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