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Temple University Acts on Complaint Against Authors of Private Prison Study

Temple University Acts on Complaint Against Authors of Private Prison Study

In response to an ethics complaint filed against Temple University professors Simon Hakim and Erwin A. Blackstone, a Temple official wrote in July 2014 that she had examined the complaint and the University took action as a result.

The complaint, filed in June 2013 by PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann, noted that when Hakim and Blackstone initially released the results of their research – which found substantial cost savings and comparable quality of service by privately-operated prisons – their working paper failed to disclose they had received funding from the nation’s three largest private prison companies. [See: PLN, June 2013, p.32].

Further, Hakim and Blackstone wrote editorials published in newspapers in at least five states regarding their research, most of which did not disclose the funding source of their study. Friedmann wrote counter-editorials, four of which were published.

The ethics complaint argued that the professors’ failure to adequately disclose their private prison study had received funding from the private prison industry violated several University policies related to academic research. The complaint also noted the study relied upon American Correctional Association (ACA) standards to evaluate quality of service at private prisons without disclosing the close financial and leadership connections between the ACA and private prison firms.

For example, the complaint stated: “The ACA essentially sells accreditations of correctional facilities, as accreditation is only provided for a fee amounting to thousands of dollars per facility.... not only does the ACA receive accreditation fees from privately-operated facilities (as it does from government-run facilities), but private prison firms serve as sponsors of the ACA’s biannual conferences and run paid advertisements in ACA publications.” Further, “there is some overlap between the ACA and the private prison industry with respect to personnel: Daron Hall, the ACA’s immediate past president, is a former CCA program manager, while at least two CCA officials, former Vice President Dennis Bradby and CCA warden Todd Thomas, have served as ACA auditors. Thomas is additionally a member of the ACA’s legislative committee and, notably, CCA Vice President Harley Lappin chairs the ACA’s standards committee.”

The ethics complaint filed against professors Hakim and Blackstone resulted in news coverage by a variety of media agencies, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Weekly, Inside Higher Ed and In These Times, as well as The Temple News, the University’s paper.

A number of groups contacted Temple University concerning the ethics complaint and private prison study, including a letter from three Philadelphia-based locals of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME). In addition, more than a dozen organizations, including the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, National Lawyers Guild and Southern Center for Human Rights, submitted a joint letter to Temple regarding the study and ethics complaint in May 2014; the letter was coordinated by In the Public Interest.

Dr. Michele Masucci, Interim Vice Provost for Research at Temple, stated in a July 2, 2014 letter that she had concluded an examination of Friedmann’s complaint.

“As you know,” she wrote, “the working paper was withdrawn and is no longer widely available. Additionally, University records do not reveal that it received grant funds” for the private prison study, and thus “many months ago we directed that correction be made to any publication that inaccurately attributed Temple’s connection to this work.”

Further, Dr. Masucci stated the University would “address its conclusions, including any action specific [sic] pertaining to the respondents, individually with Drs. Hakim and Blackstone.”

Temple University did not release the results of its investigation into the ethics complaint, however, or disclose any action taken against the authors of the private prison study. “It’s a personnel matter. I can’t go into details,” said Temple spokesman Brandon Lausch. “We concluded our examination of the matter with the professors and addressed it,” he added.

“Although it took Temple officials over a year to act on my ethics complaint, I’m pleased that they realized the serious nature of the complaint and disassociated the University from the private prison study, and that the working paper was withdrawn,” said Friedmann. “Of course, it would have been better had Temple released the results of its investigation, such as whether Hakim and Blackstone owned stock in the private prison firms that funded their study. It’s ironic that the University has not fully disclosed the outcome of its investigation into my complaint against two of its faculty members who failed to fully disclose the source of their research funding.”

ColorOfChange, the nation’s largest online civil rights organization, has launched a campaign targeting Hakim and Blackstone’s study, using the tag line: “The best research money can buy?”

Meanwhile, U.C. Berkeley researcher Christopher Petrella issued an open letter debunking some of the flawed methodology of Hakim and Blackstone’s research, and called on Corrections Corporation of America to stop citing their study. CCA and private prison firm GEO Group – both of which funded the study, along with Management & Training Corp. – have incestuously cited it in their promotional materials, on their websites and in public statements.

Efforts to urge Temple University to release the results of its investigation into the ethics complaint, and to adopt a policy requiring disclosure of corporate funding at all stages of the research publication process, remain ongoing.

Sources: Human Rights Defense Center press release (July 15, 2014), Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Tribune,

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