HRDC submits joint letter in support of reintroducing the PPIA
Human Rights Defense Center
For Immediate Release
March 11, 2015 – For Immediate Release
55 Organizations Support Reintroduction of Private Prison Information Act to Ensure Public Accountability at For-Profit Prisons
Washington, DC – Today, 55 criminal justice, civil rights and public interest organizations and law firms submitted a joint letter to the office of U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), urging her to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act (PPIA).
The PPIA would require for-profit prison companies that contract with the federal government to comply with public records requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the same extent as federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Prisons.
Currently, private companies such as Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Florida-based GEO Group are not required to comply with FOIA requests even when they operate facilities that hold federal prisoners through contracts with federal agencies. This includes privately-run facilities that house immigration detainees.
Various versions of the PPIA have been introduced since 2005; however, private prison firms and their supporters have lobbied against the bills. For example, CCA’s federal lobbying disclosure statements have specifically referenced lobbying related to the PPIA.
Christopher Petrella, a doctoral student at UC Berkeley, and Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, have worked closely with Rep. Jackson Lee’s staff to reintroduce the PPIA. The bill was unsuccessfully filed late last year, and the organizations that signed the joint letter support reintroducing the legislation during the 114th Congress.
Friedmann and Petrella argue that because private prison corporations rely almost entirely on taxpayer funds, and perform the inherently governmental function of incarceration, the public has a right to obtain information pertaining to private prison operations.
The joint letter notes that “If private prison companies like CCA and GEO would like to continue to enjoy taxpayer-funded federal contracts, then they must be required to adhere to the same disclosure laws applicable to their public counterparts, including FOIA.”
Both CCA and the GEO Group receive over 40 percent of their revenue from federal contracts, which “makes them the perfect candidates for FOIA compliance” because “the private prison industry is fundamentally different in that no citizen can freely purchase incarceration services as a private individual. There is no natural market for incarceration services; the entire market would cease to exist without direct government intervention in the form of taxpayer-funded contracts to private companies that operate correctional facilities,” the letter states.
“We contend that because the for-profit private prison industry relies almost entirely on taxpayer support, and performs the inherently governmental function of incarceration—depriving people of their liberty—the public has a right to access information related to private prison operations. In short, the government should not be allowed to contract away the public’s right to know with respect to housing federal prisoners and detainees in privately-operated facilities.”
The signatories to the joint letter include the D.C. Prisoners’ Project, In the Public Interest, National CURE, Prison Policy Initiative, The Sentencing Project, Private Corrections Institute, Legal Aid Society and National Freedom of Information Coalition.
The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Lake Worth, Florida, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has around 9,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.
For further information, contact:
Human Rights Defense Center