Public service pension manager must stop investing in for-profit prisons

PSAC strongly disapproves of members’ pension plan exposure to the American private, for-profit prison industry and calls on the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSPIB) to divest its holdings as soon as possible. PSPIB is a federal crown corporation that manages the pension plans of federal public service workers.

In the summer of 2019, PSAC raised concerns about PSPIB’s possible investment in CoreCivic and Geo Group, two U.S.-based for-profit prison operators associated with the detention of families fleeing dictatorial regimes in Central and South America. This was prompted by media reporting of severe overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, abusive practices and children living in squalor, which in some cases have resulted in deaths.

At the time, PSPIB claimed it did not hold any investments in the two firms and that its Responsible Investment Team would continue to proactively “address environmental, social and governance risks” within its portfolio.

Yet, according to media reports of its recent filings with the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission, PSPIB began buying shares of the prison firms less than a year later. In the months leading up to the U.S. presidential election, PSPIB bought 315,000 shares of CoreCivic and 307,000 shares of the GeoGroup, jointly valued at almost $5 million. This happened even after the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and the largest public pension fund in the U.S. both divested from the two companies.

The timing is significant because during the U.S. presidential campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden made it clear that he would put an end to federal government reliance on private prisons should he come to power. True to his word, he made good on this promise during his first week in office, issuing an Executive Order banning federal contract renewals with private prison operators.

“Whether it be private long term care companies or prison operators, PSAC members don’t want their pensions invested in those profiting from human suffering,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC national president. “Moreover, the abhorrent reputation of these private operators of prisons and immigration detention centers represents a material risk to our pensions, which is inconsistent with the legal and fiduciary responsibilities of PSPIB towards plan participants and beneficiaries, not to mention Canadian taxpayers.”


March 11, 2021