The figures involved suggest the move is largely symbolic, but its significance should not be understated.
General Treasurer Seth Magaziner last week announced that the State Investment Commission has approved his plan to end pension fund investments in companies that operate private, for-profit prisons or manufacture assault weapons for use by civilians.
Both kinds of businesses, Magaziner said, are “at odds with our values as a state” – a sentiment with which we agree fully.
The existing investments involved total less than $250,000 – a number that represents .003 percent of the state pension fund’s $8.7 billion in assets, according to Magaziner’s office.
They include 2,200 shares of American Outdoor Brands, valued at $20,658; 900 shares of Sturm Ruger & Co., valued at $45,126; 5,800 shares of CoreCivic, valued at $93,902; and 4,700 shares of Geo Group, valued at $75,435. Proceeds from the sale of those shares will be reinvested across the marketplace, the treasurer’s office said.
Rhode Island becomes the fourth state to end its assault weapons manufacturer and for-profit prison investments, Magaziner said.
Flanked by legislators and advocates – a group he referred to as “all around champions for justice – Magaziner said the move will help to more fully make Rhode Island “a place that is moral and just and ethical.” “We cannot associate with companies that profit off of human suffering,” he said.
Among the others to speak during the announcement were East Greenwich resident Erica Keuter, who survived the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and injured hundreds, and state Rep. Justine Caldwell of East Greenwich and Sen. Josh Miller of Cranston, who are among the lead sponsors of gun control legislation that has been introduced in the General Assembly.
In his role as treasurer, Magaziner said is focused foremost on serving as a “responsible steward” of the state’s finances. He said the plan to divest from for-profit prisons and assault weapons manufacturers fits within that mission – “and, in fact, is very much in keeping with out role as a fiduciary for the state’s funds.”
He made a compelling case. For-profit prisons, he noted, rely on a “fundamentally broken business model” – one that runs counter to the pursuit of criminal justice reform, an area of increasingly bipartisan consensus on the state and national levels.
“In the for-profit prison context, growing your revenue means locking more people up … So it’s no surprise that for-profit prison companies are among the leading opponents of criminal justice reform and among the leading proponents of policies that lead to mass incarceration,” he said. Conversely, he noted, cutting expenses in such facilities endangers both inmates and employees.
In terms of assault weapon manufacturers, Magaziner spoke of the “growing epidemic of gun violence” in America and the “disturbing growth” in the number of mass-shooting incidents like the tragedy in Las Vegas. Assault-style weapons, he said, have played a “disproportionate role” in such incidents.
“It’s something that we as a state should not be associating with,” he said.
We could not agree more. We are proud the state has taken this step and applaud the treasurer for his leadership. While the numbers are small, the statement the move makes is clear and essential.