Rights Groups Move to Stop Private Corporations from Intervening in Freedom of Information Lawsuit
November 29, 2016, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Detention Watch Network (DWN) urged a federal court to dismiss an appeal by private prison corporations seeking to block the release of government documents about their immigration detention practices. A federal judge ruled in July that under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the government must release details of its contracts with private prison corporations. The government chose not to appeal, but the prison corporations intervened to stop the release and filed an appeal of their own, seeking to prevent the release of information while the appeal is pending. The companies are the two biggest private prison contractors in the country, the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), recently rebranded as “CoreCivic.” They stand to profit immensely from the proposed immigration and detention policies of the incoming Trump administration.
“After a long fight, the government has chosen to submit to the Court’s order and release information to the public about its agreements with private contractors,” said Mary Small of DWN. “While it’s astounding that private prison contractors think they have the right to dictate the scope of government secrecy, it shouldn’t come as a surprise—private prison contractors have long sought to protect their own interests and enormous profits at the expense of immigrant communities and the American public.”
“Private contractors cannot be allowed to stand in the shoes of government and make decisions about dissemination of government information to the public,” said Jennifer-Brooke Condon of the Center for Social Justice of the Seton Hall University School of Law, which co-counsels the case with CCR. “CCA and GEO are seeking to interfere with the balance Congress sought to strike between the public and their elected representatives regarding the transparency appropriate in our democracy.”
“Private entities that take on public functions must be subject to public scrutiny,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Ghita Schwarz. “FOIA is about the people’s right to know what their government is doing – allowing private mega-corporations to dictate how the government informs the public of its detention practices would be devastating to American democracy.”
In its July ruling, the district court rejected arguments by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that the terms of government contracts constitute corporate trade secrets that may be withheld from the public. The court reasoned that the contract terms were not “confidential commercial information” and that releasing them would not harm the competitive advantage of the private prison companies. The court also ordered the release of details about staffing levels of medical and social service personnel in privately-run immigration detention facilities.
Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed the FOIA litigation to obtain information about the workings of the detention bed quota, which requires the funding of 34,000 immigration beds at any given time. The detention bed quota has helped render immigrants, including children and families, a source of profit for contractors.
In June, Detention Watch Network (DWN) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released a report, Banking on Detention 2016 Update, showing the extent to which ICE grants financial benefits to private and public entities that detain immigrants through government contracts requiring ICE to pay for guaranteed minimums at detention facilities.