Private Prisons Can’t Block Sunlight on ‘Bed Quota’

MANHATTAN (CN) — With for-profit immigration prisons booming under a Trump administration, the two largest private prison contractors in the United States lost their third attempt to stop the release of information about a so-called “detention bed quota.”

On Tuesday night, the Second Circuit refused to give Geo Group and CoreCivic another opportunity to block transparency over the rule, a controversial part of a 2009 appropriations bill requiring funding for 34,000 immigration detention beds.

The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have interpreted the statute to mean those beds must be filled at all times, blasted by many as a profit motive for locking up immigrant families, including their children.

The Detention Watch Network, a Washington-based coalition monitoring the issue, called the ruling a victory for accountability.

“It’s astounding that private prison contractors thought they had the right to dictate the scope of government secrecy,” its policy director Mary Small said in a statement. “But the Second Circuit has shown that courts can still exercise oversight over frivolous attempts to hide the profiteering schemes that devastate immigrant communities and the American public.”

Together with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, Detention Watch has been pursing Freedom of Information Act requests about the bed quota from government agencies for more than three years.

This past July, Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America threw their multibillion-dollar muscle by the government’s side, months before the latter company rebranded itself CoreCivic. The companies are also getting a boon from a new presidential administration, with Donald Trump’s team reversing Barack Obama’s memo phasing out private prisons.

Neither development has helped the companies out in court. They lost once before U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield, and now twice before the Second Circuit.

For Detention Watch, the New York-based appeals court’s latest rulings come at a crucial time.

“This victory is especially important as we face a presidential administration committed to mass privatization and a retrenchment in transparency in addition to increasingly aggressive detention and deportation,” Small said.

Geo Group and CoreCivic insisted that forcing government agencies to reveal information about their relationship could expose trade secrets.

Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Ghita Schwarz emphasized the importance of the court rejecting that argument.

“The court has rightly affirmed that private corporations that take on public functions must be subject to public scrutiny,” Schwarz said in a statement. “This is an important decision at a time of increasing privatization and increasingly abusive immigration practices: private detention does not mean decreased transparency.”

The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment, and lawyers for the prison companies did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

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