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ACLU intervenes in suit for documents related to GEO's Reeves County detention center

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The ACLU of Texas intervened in a suit to attain access documents related to the GEO Group's troubled Reeves County Detention Center in west Texas.  According to the ACLU's press release Monday,

"The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas has intervened in litigation concerning Reeves County’s refusal to disclose documents related to medical care, staffing, and the deaths of several prisoners at the Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC), a privately-managed prison owned by the county.

The Attorney General recently ruled that Reeves County must disclose this information pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act. In response, Reeves County filed suit to challenge the Attorney General’s determination, arguing that the County is entitled to withhold the documents.  RCDC’s private prison contractors claim that the documents are their “trade secrets.” The ACLU of Texas is intervening in this suit to seek a court order releasing the requested documents.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons pays as much as $68 million annually to house approximately 3,000 prisoners at RCDC.  The ACLU of Texas submitted open records requests to Reeves County after prisoners at RCDC rioted twice – in December 2008 and January 2009 – to protest poor conditions and medical care."

Access to open records is a consistent problem for advocates and members of the media attempting to attain information about privately-operated prisons in Texas and elsewhere.  The ACLU's full cross-claim (attached to this post as a document) sites the influence of private prison corporation GEO Group and private health provider Physicians Network Association (PNA) in the process.  Both companies filed comments with the attorney general opposing release of the disputed documents. 

As Adrienna Wong at the ACLU of Texas puts it,

“The private prison industry resists transparency and accountability because huge profits are at stake.  The county and its contractors are not protecting ‘trade secrets,’ they are hiding harmful secrets that should come to light."

In the world of incarceration, trade secrets should not trump information that could lead to better public policy. This is particularly true in the case of Reeves, where deaths and prisoner uprisings have brought national attention to the facility.  See some of previous coverage of Reeves:

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