Secrecy Setback for Government-funded/Corporation-run Prisons

An August post discussed claims by private prison companies that receive federal funding currently that they are exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests due to a loophole in the current law. On October 10, 2017, the US Supreme Court denied a petition by two private prison corporations, GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (recently rebranded as “CoreCivic”) seeking to block the release of government documents about their immigration detention practices.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Detention Watch Network (DWN) brought a case in 2013, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), to force the US government to release of  records on a “detention bed quota” that requires funding for 34,000 beds for detained immigrants “at any given time.” As the corporations are funded by the federal government and perform a government function, the records are held by the government, not the corporations. A federal district court ruled in July 2016 that the government must release details of its contracts with private prison corporations.

The government chose not to appeal. The country’s two private prison corporations, however, intervened to appeal the decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which dismissed their petition in February. GEO then petitioned the Supreme Court for a full review of the case, asking for the right to prevent the government from releasing information under the FOIA.

The Supreme Court’s decision lets stand the February ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, putting an end to the private contractors’ attempt.

On Tuesday, Mary Small, policy director of Detention Watch Network, said

Today’s decision by the Supreme Court has finally put an end to private prison contractors’ relentless attempts to keep their secrets buried. Private prison contractors have a long history of hiding profiteering schemes and covering up deadly abuses in immigration detentions. With this decision, the Supreme Court has signaled agreement that private prison contractors must not act with impunity and dictate government secrecy. This victory is especially important as we face a presidential administration committed to mass privatization as well as mass detention and deportation.


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