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Private Prison Forced to Produce Solitary Confinement Records

The Roderick and Solange Mac­Arthur Justice Center has prevailed in a lawsuit to obtain records related to prisoners held in segregation at Louisiana’s Allen Correctional Center (ACC), run by the GEO Group, a private prison contractor.

A public records request was submitted to ACC on June 19, 2017 and verified as received three days later. No reply was made by July 12, so the MacArthur Justice Center sent a follow-up letter via fax and certified mail seeking the status of its records request. No documents were produced, nor was a response provided by ACC. The Center then filed a public records mandamus petition on August 10, 2017.

“For over nearly two months we have made repeated attempts to obtain the requested documents and the warden simply refuses to provide the information,” said Katie Schwartzmann, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s New Orleans office. “All we want to know is who they are holding in solitary confinement and segregated housing. The warden is illegally obstructing our inquiry and we are now seeking a court’s assistance.”

The Center filed similar requests with other prisons, which promptly complied. ACC, being a privately-managed facility, followed the GEO Group’s practice of trying to keep its business operations private despite the fact that they operate under government contracts, are paid with taxpayer money and house state prisoners. How such facilities are run impacts the public’s safety and use of public funds.

“We are concerned about the use of solitary confinement throughout the state because it has significant collateral consequences,” said Schwartzmann. “It’s very bad for people’s mental health, and it’s also extremely expensive for the taxpayers of the state.”

Just 11 days after the suit was filed, on August 21, 2017, ACC reached a settlement to provide the requested records. “The whole process was unnecessary and it’s unfortunate they didn’t just comply on the front end,” said Schwartzmann.

In related news, shortly after the settlement, the GEO Group terminated its contract to operate ACC. Apparently, a decision by state officials to lower the per diem payments to GEO from $31.52 to $24.49 per prisoner made it unprofitable to continue running the facility. Effective September 1, 2017, the state took over operation of ACC. That leaves Louisiana with the Winn Correctional Center, managed by LaSalle Corrections, as its only privately-run prison. See: MacArthur Justice Center v. Cooley, 33rd Judicial District Court, Allen Parish (LA), Case No. C2017-321.

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Related legal case

MacArthur Justice Center v. Cooley