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Supreme Court Rules Against Private Prison Corporations’ Push For Secrecy

The Supreme Court ruled against two private prison corporations, GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, which sought to block the release of records related to government contracts with them.

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court has finally put an end to private prison contractors’ relentless attempts to keep their secrets buried,” declared Mary Small, the policy director of Detention Watch Network. “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,” Small added.

Detention Watch Network (DWN) and the Center For Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for records on a “detention bed quota” that requires funding for 34,000 beds for detained immigrants “at any given time.” Immigrant rights groups believe this incentivizes immigrant detention and adds to profits 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,” stated Ghita Schwarz, senior staff attorney at CCR.

“CCR and DWN hope to obtain information that gives the public a better understanding of the detention bed quota, the decision-making surrounding the quota, and its impact on detention policy and detention contracting decisions,” according to CCR. “This information will enable the public, advocates, and policymakers to engage in an important ongoing policy debate.”

In October 2016, GEO Group urged an appeals court to “stay” the government’s “obligation to produce the unit prices, bed-day rates, and staffing plans pending resolution of the appeal.”

Senior Vice President of Business Development at GEO Group, David J. Venturella, previously alleged the disclosure of information would lead to “acrimonious competition” between larger organizations, public and private, that may lead to “their withdrawal from the detention market as well, thereby leaving ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] with no viable detention service providers.”

But such a dramatic statement seems self-serving, a cry for protectionism from the government to help the GEO Group maintain its secret agreements that allow it to profit off immigrant detention.

DWN released an update to its report, “Banking On Detention,” in 2016. It documented the known contracts detention facilities have, which include “guaranteed minimums,” which require ICE to pay contractors for a minimum number of beds.

The report also called attention to “local lockup quotas” for immigrant families at sites like Karnes County Residential Center in Texas and Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania.

It referred to Venturella’s arguments for secrecy. “This relationship between ICE and its private contractors attests to the enormous influence that private prison companies have, not only on detention operations, but on government transparency itself.”

“The more the detention system relies on private corporations, the less transparent it is. This is all the more reason to be concerned about the growing privatization of detention, which now accounts for roughly 62 percent of beds.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."