AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - A state judge ruled Wednesday that the nation's largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, is a "governmental body" for purposes of the Texas Public Information Act, "and subject to [the] Act's obligations to disclose public information."
Prison Legal News sued CCA in Travis County Court in May 2013, seeking records on the Dawson State Jail in Dallas, which has closed. Prison Legal News, which publishes a monthly magazine, is a project of the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center.
Prison Legal News said in a statement after the Wednesday ruling that the information it sought "would have unquestionably been made public had the jail been operated by a government agency."
Private prisons in general, and CCA in particular, have come under fire from human rights workers as a way for states to dodge oversight and accountability. The Nashville-based prison company is paid per body per day, with the money coming from the governmental bodies that imprison the people. Yet the company and the states generally claim that how the public money is spent is not the public's business.
"This is one of the many failings of private prisons," Prison Legal News managing editor Alex Friedmann said in the statement. "By contracting with private companies, corrections officials interfere with the public's right to know what is happening in prisons and jails, even though the contracts are funded with taxpayer money. This lack of transparency contributes to abuses and misconduct by for-profit companies like CCA, which prefer secrecy over public accountability."
CCA runs nine prisons in Texas, four of them for state prisoners. The company is also very much into running immigration prisons.
"The conditions of Texas prisons have been the focus of intense public scrutiny for nearly 40 years," Brian McGiverin, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in the statement. "Today's ruling is a victory for transparency and responsible government. Texans have a right to know what their government is doing, even when a private company is hired to do it."
Prison Legal News argued in its lawsuit: ""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 Texas Public Information Act.
Judge Charles Ramsay agreed, in a 1-page order granting summary judgment.
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