Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Yes, the AP thinks we should know what's going on in Boise's private prison

Posted By on Tue, Jun 25, 2013 at 2:47 PM

click to enlarge ap_prisons.jpg

Behind private prison walls in Boise, six gang members attacked eight inmates with a slew of makeshift weapons. One prisoner was stabbed 18 times. And that’s just one problem.

In a lawsuit against Corrections Corporation of America, the private company that runs a prison in Boise, Idaho, the eight prisoners claim that prison officials have lied about staffing hours, ceded control to prison gangs, and failed to protect inmates from gang assaults.

AP Boise reporter Rebecca Boone has been covering the problems with the private prisons for years. But recently, she learned that CCA’s defense attorneys brought a motion to seal most of the documents related to the case. Many documents, the attorneys argued, involved potential confidential information, some of which detailed security procedures.

“This is a company that is paid $29 million a year by the state of Idaho, by its taxpayers,” says Todd Dvorak, correspondent in charge of the AP Boise Office. “There’s a lot of responsibility to run their prisons. There’s a question, an issue of government accountability. Are we getting what we pay for. If not, why not?”

The AP didn’t want to take a risk that a crucial document wouldn’t be available to them. The AP gathered together 16 other media organizations, including the Spokesman-Review and the Coeur d’Alene Press, to file a legal challenge against the motion. Last year, with many of the same organizations, the AP successfully challenged Idaho’s limitations on reporters viewing executions.

The coalition hired the same attorney, Charles Brown of Lewiston, to challenge the court order being sealed. The Ninth Circuit requires balancing the need to keep documents sealed with the public interest, Brown argues, but the blanket order would be much too broad.

“We think that the court records should be open to the public and the news agencies. At its essence, this is a case about whether it’s safe for inmates in Idaho’s prisons, and whether that company is playing by the rules,” Dvorak says. “We take our job of doing accountability reporting very seriously.”


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