By Lance Lowry
Austin, Texas - For years private prisons have claimed they could run prison facilities cheaper than public institutions without cutting quality measures, however most companies refuse to comply with the same standards public institutions face with open records request and legal jurisdictions requirements being the same as public institutions. Private prison companies have helped fund organizations such as American Correctional Association (ACA), who issues accreditations to both public and private prisons. With increasing dependence from private prisons ACA executives are pressured to keep accreditation standards under terms the private prison corporations set, allowing no real measure for actual standards.
On Wednesday the 353rd State District Court judge in Travis County may have leveled the playing field more by ruling that the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is a "governmental body" and is subject to the Texas Open Records Act. This court ruling will require private prison companies to release records that are normally required to be made public by public institutions. Information such as staffing levels and officer turnover rates may now be required to be released by private prisons that receive state governmental money in Texas.
In a lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News in May 2013 against CCA, the publication sought records on the CCA Dawson State Jail, and argued that "incarceration is inherently a power of government. By using public money to perform a public function, CCA is a government body." State District Judge Charles Ramsey agreed in a 1 page order granting Prison Legal News a summary judgment.
CCA in August 2013 attempted to shield itself from public scrutiny by filing a request to seal a lawsuit brought on by 17 Idaho news organization. US District Judge Edward Lodge issued an order that scaled back the protection CCA sought. Now the company is facing an FBI Criminal Investigation as a result of its Idaho Operation and understaffing cover-ups at an Idaho prison know as the "Gladiator School."
An audit of CCA's Idaho operations by the forensic firm KPMG at the request of the Idaho Department of Corrections reveals in 2012 CCA fell short on 26,000 hours.
The state of Texas last year closed down two CCA facilities and may be expected to cut more with CCA's current performance history. With CCA's falsification of records in Idaho, the new Texas open records ruling may reveal the same type of cover-ups on staffing in Texas.
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