Mutual funds are collections of stocks bundled together, often hundreds or thousands of companies. Along with similar products called exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, they are some of the most popular investment products for retirement plans and personal investing. Investing in so many different company stocks at once helps diversify investment risk, but it makes it difficult to find out and track exactly what companies are inside the funds you're invested in. That's where we come in. We examine every holding in thousands of funds, checking to see if any of the fund’s investments are flagged by our prison industrial complex screen.
Prison industrial complex screen
Prison Free Funds uses data provided by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to screen mutual funds for investments in companies with involvement in the prison industrial complex.
The Investigate project, from AFSC’s Economic Activism Program, tracks companies involved in oppressive state violence structures in order to promote standards for corporate social responsibility and respect for human rights. Their research database highlights and profiles the main publicly-traded companies involved in the prison and border industries.
Learn more about AFSC, the Investigate tool, and their company scoring rubric at afsc.org and investigate.afsc.org.
The prison and border industries
On Prison Free Funds, we focus on two aspects of the prison industrial complex: companies involved in the prison industry (such as private for-profit prison operators and prison services providers), and companies involved in the militarization of borders and the policing of immigration.
Higher risk companies and private prison operators
Using a scoring rubric based on company data from AFSC’s Investigate project, some companies are identified as higher risk. These companies received the worst scores on AFSC’s Investigate scoring rubric, and are marked with this symbol:
Additionally, some companies are identified as private prison operators. These companies are identified by AFSC’s Investigate project as directly operating or managing private prison or immigrant detention facilities. They are marked with this symbol:
Once we’ve checked to see if any of a fund’s holdings get flagged by our prison industrial complex screen, we calculate some summary statistics. We calculate the total number of flagged holdings in the fund, the total amount in USD of the fund’s assets that are invested in those companies by the fund, and the total percentage of the fund portfolio they account for. These totals are also broken down by holding category (prison industry and border industry), and by holdings that are higher risk or private prison operators. We also show the full list of any holdings that were flagged.
Based on the screen results, a fund is assigned one of five letter grades.
Finding top-scoring investments
On our search page, you can filter and sort results to find the funds that fit your investing needs. For example, you can filter to only see funds that earn a certain grade on Prison Free Funds, or only search for funds that are offered by a specific asset manager. By default, the search results are sorted to highlight the largest funds that earn the top grade and are members of The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment.
Socially sustainable investing
Some funds actively choose to invest responsibly by considering the prison industrial complex or other environmental and social issues when selecting companies to invest in. If you're thinking about avoiding investments in the prison industrial complex, sustainable funds can be a good place to start. These funds often deliberately seek out companies that are not directly benefitting from the prison or border industries.
Funds marked as having a sustainability mandate show this icon:
Funds that are members of The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, an industry group advancing sustainable, responsible, and impact investing, show this icon:
Sustainable investing can offer competitive returns
While people may become interested in sustainable investing because of personal values and goals, that doesn't mean they're not looking for a competitive financial return on their investments. Fortunately, the evidence is clear: sustainable and responsible investors do not have to sacrifice returns to align investments with their values. On Prison Free Funds, you can also see some basic information on fund performance and expense ratio.
Action toolkit to move your money
When you're done looking up funds and finding the data you need, what's next? You can learn how to make a change and move your money with our prison industrial complex-free action toolkit. Whether you’re an individual investor or if your investments are in your employer-sponsored plan at work, our step-by-step toolkit can help.
Can't find what you're looking for?
We don't have everything in our database — we only screen mutual funds that own direct stock investments, and can only display up to 3,000. Looking for your favorite fund and can’t find it? Get in touch and let us know, and we may be able to help. We're also a non-profit, and with more resources, we could expand our site — make a gift today to support our work.