Rhode Island to divest from private prisons, gun makers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The Rhode Island public pension fund will stop investing in companies that either operate private for-profit prisons or make assault-style weapons that are sold to civilians, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner announced Wednesday.

“We don’t want to be associated with businesses that we think are fundamentally immoral,” Magaziner, a Democrat, said at a news conference attended by representatives of several gun control groups including Moms Demand Action and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence.

Several state lawmakers working on stricter guns laws, including Democratic Sens. Cynthia Coyne and Josh Miller, also attended, as did Erica Keuter, an East Greenwich woman who survived the October 2017 shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas that killed 58 people.

The state public pension system has less than $250,000 invested in two gun companies and two prison companies, he said. That represents 0.003% of the state’s $8.7 billion pension fund.

“This move will not have a material impact on our financial performance,” he said.

After the shares of the four companies are sold, the proceeds will be reinvested across the broader market.

He acknowledged that the move, already approved by the State Investment Commission he chairs, is largely symbolic but said symbolic gestures are important.

Rhode Island is the fourth state pension system to drop its investments in private for-profit prisons, and also the fourth state to end its investments in the manufacture of certain firearms for civilian use, Magaziner’s office said in a statement.