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California State Retirement Systems Split on Decision to Divest 
from Private Prisons

by Scott Grammer

The Teachers’ Retirement Board of the California State Retirement System (CalSTRS) has decided to get out of private prison investments by dumping CoreCivic and GEO Group stock from its portfolio. About $12 million worth of stock is involved – which represents a fraction of the companies’ combined $4.57 billion market cap.

In a November 7, 2018 press release, Investment Committee Chairman Harry Keiley said, “The board conducted a review of the staff research. We agreed that the engagement efforts were thorough and listened to our expert investment consultants. Based on all the information and advice we were provided, the board decided to divest according to the policy criteria.” That decision occurred after officials visited detention facilities and met with senior management of both private prison firms. 

The Chief Investment Officer for CalSTRS, Christopher Ailman, said there was an increased risk to the retirement system’s portfolio due to human rights violations at privately-operated detention centers used to house immigrants and their children. 

In contrast, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Cal­PERS) recently voted against divestment from private prisons. The agenda for a March 18, 2019 meeting of CalPERS’ investment committee stated, “as a California state agency, CalPERS is sensitive to public policy issues, but recognizes that our primary duty and obligation is to our members,” adding, “Divestment almost invariably harms investment performance by compromising investment strategies and increasing transaction costs.” 

It was estimated that selling off Cal­PERS’ 10 million shares in CoreCivic and GEO Group would have cost the $351 billion pension system around $175,000 in fees and market losses. 

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Sources: barrons.com, pionline.com, bloomberglaw.com, ai-cio.com

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