Texas Court Finds CCA Subject to State’s Public Information Act, Awards Attorney Fees
On September 15, 2014, a Travis County District Court entered a final judgment that found Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, is a “governmental body” for purposes of the Texas Public Information Act and is therefore subject to the “Act’s obligations to disclose public information.”
This was the first time a Texas court had held that a private prison company was required to comply with the state’s public records law, joining decisions by courts in Tennessee, Florida and Vermont. [See: PLN, July 2013, p.42; June 2013, p.14; June 2010, p.29].
Travis County District Court Judge Gisela D. Triana entered the judgment in a lawsuit brought against CCA by Prison Legal News.
PLN filed suit on May 1, 2013 after the company refused to produce records related to the now-closed Dawson State Jail, including reports and audits concerning CCA’s management of the facility. [See: PLN, June 2013, p.46]. CCA operates nine facilities in Texas, including four state jails.
PLN had argued that CCA meets the definition of a “governmental body” under the Texas Public Information Act because – among other factors – the company “shares a common purpose and objective to that of the government” and performs services “traditionally performed by governmental bodies.”
In the latter regard, PLN noted that “Incarceration is inherently a power of government. By using public money to perform a public function, CCA is a governmental body for purposes” of the state’s public records law.
The court agreed, noting that “CCA failed and refused to disclose the documents” requested by PLN, which were “public information” as defined by state law. Accordingly, CCA was ordered to produce the records; Judge Triana also ordered the company to pay $25,000 in PLN’s attorneys’ fees and costs, plus another $5,000 if it unsuccessfully appeals.
“That is the right result and clearly what the Public Information Act requires,” stated Cindy Saiter, one of PLN’s attorneys .
CCA has vigorously opposed compliance with state public records laws and has lobbied against the Private Prison Information Act on the federal level. [See: PLN, Feb. 2013, p.14].
“Although CCA acts as the functional equivalent of a government agency when it runs prisons and jails, it opposes efforts to hold the company accountable under public records laws to the same extent as government agencies,” said PLN editor Paul Wright. “It makes you wonder what the company is hiding, and why it doesn’t want to be held accountable to members of the public whose tax dollars pay for CCA’s private prison contracts.”
“The public saw truly awful things when we began pulling the veil from the CCA-operated Dawson State Jail last year,” added attorney Brian McGiverin with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Today, allegations are coming to light of CCA’s complicity in a widespread sexual abuse hazing ritual at the Bartlett State Jail. Is it any wonder CCA opposes greater transparency?”
PLN was represented by attorneys Cindy Saiter with Scott, Douglass & McConnico, LLP and Brian McGiverin with the Texas Civil Rights Project. The case is Prison Legal News v. CCA, Travis County District Court, 353rd Judicial District, Cause No. D-1-GN-13-001445.
The hazing ritual mentioned by McGiverin involves allegations in a federal lawsuit that claims prisoners at the Bartlett State Jail were stripped by other prisoners, turned upside down and had their naked buttocks slammed against the window of a guard station – known as “ass on the glass.” A prisoner subjected to the hazing said he was sexually assaulted during the incident, and that there was only one CCA guard in the unit, who did nothing to stop it
The October 2013 “ass on the glass” incident reportedly lasted two hours and involved 55 prisoners. The lawsuit, filed in September 2014, remains pending. See: Doe v. CCA, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Texas), Case No. 1:14-cv-00840.
Sources: HRDC press release (Sept. 18, 2014); www.mysanantonio.com
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Related legal cases
Prison Legal News v. CCA
|Cite||Travis County District Court, 353rd Judicial District, Cause No. D-1-GN-13-001445|
|Level||State Trial Court|
Doe v. CCA
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (W.D. Texas), Case No. 1:14-cv-00840|