On September 15, a Travis County District Court entered a final judgment that held Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, is a “governmental body” for purposes of the Texas Public Information Act and is therefore subject to the “Act’s obligations to disclose public information.”
This was the first time a Texas court had found that a private prison company was required to comply with the state’s public records law, joining courts in Tennessee, Florida, and Vermont.
District Court Judge Gisela D. Triana entered the judgment in a lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues and a project of the non-profit Human Rights Defense Center.
PLN filed suit against CCA on May 1, 2013 after the company refused to produce records related to the now-closed Dawson State Jail, including reports and audits concerning CCA’s management of the facility. CCA operates nine facilities in Texas, including four state jails.
PLN had argued that CCA meets the definition of a “governmental body” under the Texas Public Information Act because – among other factors – the company “shares a common purpose and objective to that of the government” and performs services “traditionally performed by govern-mental bodies.”
In the latter regard, PLN noted that “Incarceration is inherently a power of government. By using public money to perform a public function, CCA is a governmental body for purposes” of the state’s public records law.
The court agreed, noting that “CCA failed and refused to disclose the documents” requested by PLN, which were “public information” as defined by the Public Information Act. Accordingly, CCA was ordered to produce the records; Judge Triana also ordered the company to pay $25,000 in PLN’s attorneys’ fees and costs, plus another $5,000 if it unsuccessfully appeals.
“That is the right result and clearly what the Public Information Act requires,” said PLN attorney Cindy Saiter.
CCA has vigorously opposed compliance with state public records laws and has lobbied against the Private Prison Information Act on the federal level.
“Although CCA acts as the functional equivalent of a government agency when it runs prisons and jails, it opposes efforts to hold the company accountable under public records laws to the same extent as government agencies,” said PLN editor Paul Wright. “It makes you wonder what the company is hiding, and why it doesn’t want to be held accountable to members of the public whose tax dollars pay for CCA’s private prison contracts.”
“The public saw truly awful things when we began pulling the veil from the CCA-operated Dawson State Jail last year,” said attorney Brian McGiverin with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Today, allegations are coming to light of CCA’s complicity in a widespread sexual abuse hazing ritual at the Bartlett State Jail. Is it any wonder CCA opposes greater transparency?”
PLN was represented by attorneys Cindy Saiter with Scott, Douglass & McConnico, LLP and Brian McGiverin with the Texas Civil Rights Project. The case is Prison Legal News v. CCA, Travis County District Court, 353rd Judicial District, Cause No. D-1-GN-13-001445.
San Antonio Express News reports that a lawsuit is being filed against Corrections Corporation of America for permitting a hazing tradition at Bartlett State Jail that ultimately led to the sexual assault of an inmate.
Bartlett State Jail is a prison facility for low-level inmates serving short-term sentences. The tradition of hazing inmates who are near to their release date involves forcibly removing their pants, turning them upside down and slamming them against the glass of the guard station. It is impossible for guards to ignore the behavior, as they are literally faced with the exposed backside of the inmate who is being hazed. Bartlett’s Warden Eduardo Carmona and other CCA executives were previously aware of the tradition and yet had never attempted to prevent it from happening.
According to the court documents, the hazing incident that resulted in the sexual assault was a three hour ordeal in which every single inmate in a 55-person block was subjected to the hazing practice while the single officer on duty — who was not only in charge of the victim’s block but three other 55-person blocks — did nothing to intervene.
Typically, in correctional facilities that follow best practices, there should be two officers on duty at all times so that one can intervene while the other calls for backup. Understaffing as a cost-cutting measure is routine at CCA run facilities and, clearly, it results in inmate-on-inmate violence with no intervention by staff.
The Lone Star News Group reported this week that two former CCA guards have been indicted on bribery charges ("Former prison employees plead guilty to bribery," 5/20/14).
Carl James Guittard, 36, and Terrie Elaine Glover, 49, were both required to pay a $1000 fine, serve 240 hours of community service, and must serve 10 years of probation. Both were guards at the 2100-bed Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, which closed on July 30th, 2013 after the Texas Legislature cut its funding. The facility was operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
The indictments also claim that 10 people offered or gave money and prepaid debit cards to Guittard, Glover, or both guards. They also allegedly provided tobacco products to people incarcerated at the facility. A state prosecutor has deemed the investigation "extensive."
Sixteen formerly incarcerated people were indicted in this investigation.
Naik claims that he wishes to hold special events, like weddings and quinceneras, at the park, and would like to host rodeos at the venue as well.
The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), who owns the T. Don Hutto Detention Center adjacent to Hidalgo Park, was not pleased with Mr. Naik's intentions. Prison officials declined to speak on camera, but claimed that late-night live music events held at Hidalgo Park could endanger the women detained at the facility.
Naik claims that CCA is holding his business "hostage" with demands. He also says he has spent $25,000 to comply with CCA's and the city of Taylor's requests.
Jose Orta, president of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens LULAC , has responded to the feud:
"I believe Mr. Naik is being bullied by Correctional Corporation of America... They're impeding him by creating barriers."
Orta brought these concerns to interim city manager Jeff Straub, who asserted that the city's objective was to mediate the situation.
A Special Use Permit (SUP) was reviewed by the Taylor City Countil on April 24 and was issued to Mr. Naik on May 8 after he negotiatiated with the city of Taylor and CCA.