By CAMERON LANGFORD of Courthouse News
AUSTIN (CN) – Prison Legal News sued the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison contractor, for records about its contracts in Texas and lawsuits filed against CCA there.
Prison Legal News, a subsidiary of the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center, sued CCA in Travis County Court.
“Privately operated prisons and jails are notorious for their abhorrent conditions,” Prison Legal News says in its complaint. “Although they perform a government function, they are driven by a profit model that cuts costs for the benefit of shareholders and to the detriment of basic services, security, and oversight. Prison Legal News seeks to enforce its rights under the Public Information Act to investigate details about these facilities in Texas.”
Prison Legal News “publishes a 64-page monthly magazine with cutting-edge review and analysis of prisoner rights, court rulings and prison issues,” the complaint states. “Its circulation is approximately 7,000 hardcopies per month, and includes subscribers in all 50 states and abroad.
“The information offered by Prison Legal News enables prisoners, civil rights advocates, and organizations to protect prisoners’ rights at the grass roots level. It is in a unique position to investigate, document, and publicize the nationwide abuses of a corporation like CCA.
“Prison Legal News has sought and received public records from CCA in others states using those states’ open records laws, including in CCA’s home, Tennessee.”
The nonprofit claims that CCA blew off its March 1 public records request for records about “Contracts between CCA, the state, and local counties and municipalities … Petitions from lawsuits filed against CCA in Texas … Settlements, verdicts, and injunctive orders entered against CCA in Texas.”
But “CCA ignored Texas law and disregarded the request, producing nothing,” Prison Legal News says.
It seeks a writ of mandamus ordering CCA to provide all the information it requested.
Federal and state governments and private prison companies have used privatization to deny oversight to the press, the public and regulators. Governments have claimed they are not responsible for what goes on in the prisons, and the private companies have claimed that inconvenient laws, such as FOIA and state public records laws, do not apply to them.
The Corrections Corporation of America has been sued 416 in the past 3 years, according to the Courthouse News database. Many of the lawsuits allege physical and sexual abuse from guards.
Prison Legal News is part of a coalition urging U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act in Congress.
“The PPIA would apply to private prison contractors on the federal level – it would subject them to the same obligations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that apply to public corrections agencies,” Prison Legal News managing editor Alex Friedmann said in an article on the nonprofit’s website.
“Currently, FOIA does not apply to privately-operated prisons. This is important as a transparency issue. It would put all federal facilities, both prisons and detention centers, public and private, on equal footing – it doesn’t matter where people are housed, the facilities should still be subject to FOIA. So beyond it being an issue for just prisoners or people that are directly connected to prisoners, it’s a public taxpayer issue.”
The Human Rights Defense Center sent a letter to Jackson Lee in December asking her to reintroduce the bill, which she has unsuccessfully proposed in each session of Congress since 2007.
The letter states: “Whereas the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state departments of corrections are subject to disclosure statutes under the Freedom of Information Act and state-level public records laws, some state courts have held that private prison firms that contract with public agencies generally are not. This lack of public transparency is indefensible in light of the nearly $8 billion in federal contracts that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO) – the nation’s two largest private prisons firms – have been awarded since 2007.”
Prison Legal News is represented by Brian McGiverin with the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin.
(First published by Courthouse News and used here by permission)