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Supreme Court Rules Against Private Prisons

Above Photo: Flickr/ Brittany Hogan

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Highest Court Rejects Private Prisons’ Petition to Limit Release of Government Documents

Oct. 10. New York, NY – Today, the Supreme Court denied a petition by private prison corporations seeking to block the release of government documents about their immigration detention practices. In a case brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Detention Watch Network (DWN), under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a federal district court ruled in July 2016, that the government must release details of its contracts with private prison corporations. The government chose not to appeal; instead, the country’s two largest private prison corporations, GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), recently rebranded as “CoreCivic,” intervened to appeal the decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which dismissed their petition in February. GEO then petitioned the Supreme Court for a full review of the case, asking for the right to prevent the government from releasing information under the FOIA.

The Supreme Court’s decision lets stand the February ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected the private contractors’ unusual attempt to fight for government secrecy when the government itself had acceded to the court’s ruling. The Court of Appeals’ ruling, that private prison corporations do not have standing to make decisions about the dissemination of government documents, is in line with decades of Supreme Court precedent.

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court has finally put an end to private prison contractors’ relentless attempts to keep their secrets buried. Private prison contractors have a long history of hiding profiteering schemes and covering up deadly abuses in immigration detentions. With this decision, the Supreme Court has signaled agreement that private prison contractors must not act with impunity and dictate government secrecy. This victory is especially important as we face a presidential administration committed to mass privatization as well as mass detention and deportation,” said Mary Small, policy director of Detention Watch Network.

Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights first filed the FOIA litigation in November 2013 to obtain information about the workings of the detention bed quota, which requires the funding of 34,000 immigration beds at any given time. DHS and ICE have interpreted the quota as a requirement that at least 34,000 beds be filled at any given time, which immigrant rights groups and their attorneys argue has incentivized growing immigrant detention and removal operations and rendered immigrants a source of profit for contractors.

“This outcome is a decisive victory for government transparency and a reminder that private companies do not have the right to try to overturn government decisions regarding the release of information to the public,” said Ghita Schwarz, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“The Supreme Court correctly recognized that private companies have no standing under FOIA to interfere with the balance Congress sought to strike between the public and their elected representatives regarding the transparency necessary in our democracy,” said Jenny-Brooke Condon, Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Social Justice.

In June 2016, Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights released a report, Banking on Detention, showing how 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.

For more information, visit CCR’s case page. 

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