The increasing use of private prisons in the United States has created a growing problem: contracting away transparency and government accountability by federal and state governments, said a reform advocacy report.
A recent report by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) criticized the trend of privatizing prisons by the federal and state governments that results in a lack of public access to the records maintained by the outsourced prisons.
“Privatizing entities once under exclusive governmental control has eliminated a key component of public accountability – access to information that explains how the prisons are being run, at what cost and the extent to which they are engaging in abuses that deprive prisoners of their basic civil liberties,” proclaimed the CREW report.
Records of federal public prisons are maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Bureau of Prisons, and are subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Similarly, records of state public prisons are maintained by the respective state departments of corrections and are subject to the state open records laws, such as the California Public Records Act.
The FOIA and the states’ open records laws provide the public with a mechanism to access governmental records, which promotes transparency of the public services and accountability of the government bodies that are responsible for providing the services.
“By contrast, private prisons are not subject to the FOIA and generally are not subject to state open records laws,” the CREW report said. “… As a result, the public is denied access to basic information that would provide a full picture of the workings and conditions of private prisons.”
According to the CREW report, 18.6 percent of the federal prison population and more than 7 percent of state prison populations were incarcerated in private facilities as of Dec. 31, 2012. Corrections Corporations of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private prison company, and GEO Group, the world’s largest, monopolize the federal prison market, with CCA also running 53 facilities from state and local governments, the report said.
The CREW report detailed how CCA and GEO Group – who as for-profit entities serve the interests of “shareholders and the bottom line rather than the public” – have strategies to get and stay where they are today. The have lobbied heavily against any legislation that might have threatened their interests; provided generous campaign contributions to congressional and state political candidates, parties and other entities; and used philanthropic giving as a way to curry influence, the report showed.
The private prison industry has lobbied successfully against the passage of five versions of the Private Prison Information Act (PPIA), which would have subjected private prisons to the FOIA. “This legislation has never been voted out of committee in the House of Representatives,” said the CREW report.
The private prison industry also has successfully blocked attempts by the Arizona Legislature to make the state’s private prison records public, the report noted.
The CREW report proposed these solutions:
- Enactment of a statute like the PPIA and similar state legislation.
- Congressional hearings to monitor private prisons.
- Legislation other than amendment of the FOIA that requires disclosure.
- Authorization of data collection from private prisons by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- Congressional oversight.
- Investigation and studies by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Offices of the Inspectors General at DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security.
- Grassroots efforts
California Public Records Act (CPRA)
GOVT. CODE §§ 6250 – 6276.48
The fundamental precept of the CPRA is that governmental records shall be disclosed to the public, upon request, unless there is a specific reason not to do so. Most of the reasons for withholding disclosure of a record are set forth in specific exemptions contained in the CPRA. (§ 6253). Specific exceptions to disclosure are listed in sections 6253.2, 6253.5, 6253.6, 6254, 6254.1-6254.22, 6255, 6267, 6268, 6276.02-6276.48; to ensure maximum access, these exceptions are read narrowly. The agency always bears the burden of justifying nondisclosure, and “any reasonably segregable portion . . . shall be available for inspection…after deletion of the portions which are exempt.” (§ 6253(a))
In enacting the CPRA, the Legislature stated that access to information concerning the conduct of the public’s business is a fundamental and necessary right for every person in the state and the CPRA’s primary purpose is to give the public an opportunity to monitor the functioning of their government. U.S. Dept. of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of Press (1989) 489 U.S. 749; Times Mirror Co. v. Superior Court (1991) 53 Cal.3d 1325; CBS, Inc. v. Block (1986) 42 Cal.3d 646.
WHO’S COVERED: All state and local agencies, including: (1) any officer, bureau or department; (2) any “board, commission or agency” created by the agency (including advisory boards); and (3) nonprofit entities that are legislative bodies of a local agency. (§ 6252(a), (b)). Many state and regional agencies are required to have written public record policies. A list appears in § 6253.4.
WHO’S NOT COVERED: Courts (except itemized statements of total expenditures and disbursement) (§§6252(a), 6261).The Legislature. (§ 6252) See Legislative Open
Records Act, Govt. Code §§ 9070-9080.
TO MAKE A REQUEST OF THE CDCR
1515 S St., Suite 314S
Sacramento, CA 94283-0001
The CDCR charges $.12 per page for Public Records Act requests, plus actual postage. If the documents can be emailed, the postage would be waived.
FOR MORE INFORMATION OR HELP:
FIRST AMENDMENT PROJECT……………..510/208-7744
California First Amendment Coalition……….415/460-5060
For the Top 10 Points to Remember about Making a California Public Records Act Request or Top 10 Points to Remember about Exemptions from the California Public Records Act, please send a request to:
The Center for Public Forum Rights
2218 Homewood Way
Carmichael, CA 95608 www.calaware.org