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New York City pension fund to explore divesting from private prison companies

Trustees of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, one of five pension funds within the $163.1 billion New York City Retirement Systems, voted unanimously Thursday to study divesting its stock holdings in companies that run private prisons.

“As trustees, we have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that we are acting in the best interests of our members while investing in ways that are consistent with our values as New Yorkers,” city Comptroller Scott Stringer, a trustee of NYCERS, said in a news release. Mr. Stringer is the fiduciary of all five city pension funds.

“We believe the time has come to study whether our holdings in private prisons meet both our fiduciary standard as well as our standard to invest responsibly,” he added. “My fellow trustees and I will carefully review these findings and take action accordingly.”

NYCERS had $53.3 billion in assets as of May 31. NYCERS had approximately $6 million invested in the stocks of private prison companies as of May 31, Tyrone Stevens, a spokesman for Mr. Stringer, said in an interview.

Mr. Stringer said he will introduce within a few weeks similar divestment-study resolutions to the three other pensions for which he is a trustee — the New York City Teachers’ Retirement System, the New York City Police Pension Fund and the New York City Fire Department Pension Fund.

Mr. Stringer isn’t a trustee of the Board of Education Retirement System, but said he would ask trustees of that pension fund to consider a divestment study as well. The five pension funds in the city pension system held approximately $20 million in private-prison company stock as of May 31, Mr. Stevens said. According to the news release, NYCERS took action based on a recent decision by the U.S Justice Department to phase out the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ use of privately-operated prisons.

"Prisons should not be profitable at the expense of humane conditions and safety," said John Adler, director of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office of pensions and investments, in the same release. Mr. Adler is chairman of the NYCERS board of trustees.