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Article about Private Prison Information Act mentions HRDC

Nashville Scene, March 19, 2015.

Criminal Justice Orgs Want Sunlight on Private Prisons

POSTED BY  ON THU, MAR 19, 2015 AT 3:00 PM

Earlier this month, 55 organizations focused on criminal justice and civil rights submitted a letter asking U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act.

The Texas Democrat introduced the bill last year, but only at the end of the year when legislators were fighting over how to keep the government running and go home for the holidays. The legislation — the PPIA — would extend the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act to private prison corporations, like Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, who hold federal prisons in their facilities. Currently, companies like CCA or GEO Group are not covered by the FOIA. In 2013, private prisons held 19 percent of the entire federal prison population, according to a report by Mother Jones. That same report noted that CCA, the nation's largest for-profit prison operator, collected more than $584 million from the federal government.

The private prison industry has lobbied heavily against versions of the PPIA in the past.

The letter, signed by organizations like The Sentencing Project and the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (of which the Scene is a member), makes the case that private prisons which can only exist through public funding should be subject to the same standards of transparency as government agencies.

If private prison companies like CCA and GEO would like to continue to enjoy taxpayer-funded federal contracts, then they must be required to adhere to the same disclosure laws applicable to their public counterparts, including FOIA.

Why should private prison firms, which are funded exclusively with taxpayer dollars, be any less accountable to the public than federal corrections agencies such as the Bureau of Prisons or ICE? We contend that because the for-profit private prison industry relies almost entirely on taxpayer support, and performs the inherently governmental function of incarceration—depriving people of their liberty—the public has a right to access information related to private prison operations. In short, the government should not be allowed to contract away the public’s right to know with respect to housing federal prisoners and detainees in privately-operated facilities. 

You can read the whole letter, along with an accompanying press release from the Human Rights Defense Center, here.

Pith asked Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper if he would support the legislation were it to be reintroduced. He sent along this statement:

“We need transparency in our prisons to be sure they’re running properly. Better oversight will take time and cooperation from all levels of government, but it’s an achievable goal. If this bill is reintroduced, I will review whether it’s part of the solution.”



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