NEFAC Calls for Increased Transparency From Privately Managed Prisons

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently called on the U.S. Senate to support legislation that would make the federal Freedom of Information Act applicable to privately managed prisons and demand more transparency from the companies that manage those prisons.

The Private Prison Information Act of 2017 (S.1728) would strengthen accountability and oversight by requiring non-federal prison, correctional, and detention facilities holding federal prisoners or detainees under a contract with the federal government to make the same information available to the public as is required of federal prisons and correctional facilities by FOIA.

In an Aug. 3 letter to the Senate, NEFAC and 28 open government advocates wrote:

Private prison companies that receive federal funding provide the same service as government agencies, but, by asserting their status as private entities, claim that they are not subject to public records laws such as the FOIA. As a result, the public is largely in the dark with regard to the functioning of the many of this country’s private prisons, and the industry operates with a lack of oversight and accountability mechanisms. This dynamic hinders the ability of the government and public to ensure private prison companies are living up to their contractual obligations and not wasting taxpayer dollars.

There are three federal prisons in New England and though none are privately managed, S.1728 would provide the transparency needed to fully evaluate all prisons, said Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director.

“By learning more about our privately-managed prisons, we can better understand the prison system as a whole,” Silverman said. “Contractors shouldn’t be operating in secrecy when they are performing a government functions with as much consequence as the federal prison system.”

NEFAC joined similar efforts in 2015, urging congressional leaders to open up privately managed prisons to the same level of scrutiny as federal prisons.

“This loophole in the FOIA must be closed,” NEFAC and fellow advocates wrote to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) in 2015. “Transparency is essential to ensuring integrity and accountability in the operation of our governing institutions, including perhaps most importantly when those institutions are responsible for the care and safety of individuals stripped of their liberty for any length of time.”

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.