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PLN Files Public Records Suit Against CCA in Vermont

On June 7, 2013, Prison Legal News, represented by the ACLU of Vermont, filed a lawsuit in state court after submitting a public records request seeking information about legal settlements involving Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) – the nation's largest for-profit prison firm. The Vermont Department of Corrections contracts with CCA to house hundreds of Vermont prisoners in out-of-state facilities.

As part of its reporting on conditions in private prisons, PLN had submitted a public records request to CCA in the fall of 2012 that sought information about the resolution of lawsuits filed by Vermont prisoners housed in CCA-operated prisons. The company ignored the request as well as a subsequent administrative appeal.

"The public needs to know how prisoners are treated and to understand how the for-profit prison industry works," said PLN editor Paul Wright. "By reviewing CCA's litigation settlements, Prison Legal News can report on the ways in which Vermont prisoners are being injured at CCA facilities and suffering violations of their constitutional rights, and how much CCA is willing to pay for the misconduct of its employees."

"This is an important case for Vermont public records law," stated Allen Gilbert, executive director of the ACLU of Vermont. "States and municipalities are contracting out more and more of their responsibilities, and it's vital that Vermonters don't lose the ability to see what's being done in their names and with their tax dollars."

Wright noted that Prison Legal News has filed similar lawsuits against private prison companies. PLN successfully sued CCA in Tennessee, where the company is headquartered, for failing to comply with that state's public records statute. [See: PLN, June 2013, p.14]. PLN recently filed a similar public records suit against CCA in Texas [PLN, June 2013, p.46], and successfully sued private prison firm GEO Group under Florida's public records law. [See: PLN, June 2010, p.29]. Further, PLN sued Prison Health Services for failing to produce public records in Vermont; the company settled and produced the requested records. [See: PLN, Dec. 2012, p.16].

"As far as we're concerned, a private corporation that is playing the role of a state agency through a privatization contract is the functional equivalent of a state agency and is thus accountable to the public," Wright stated.

ACLU of Vermont staff attorney Dan Barrett agreed. "A contractor cannot exercise the power of the state to hold human beings in prison cells and then turn around and say that the company is not subject to public scrutiny. We think that Vermont's public records law applies equally to CCA when it stands in the shoes of the state Department of Corrections."

PLN's lawsuit, filed in Vermont Superior Court in Montpelier, seeks a court order requiring CCA to disclose the requested records. See: Prison Legal News v. CCA, Superior Court, Civil Division, Washington Unit (VT), Docket No. 332-5-13 WNCV.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. CCA