Lieberman Advocates Bill to Increase Transparency at Private Prisons

Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., has introduced the Private Prison Information Act, a bill that would impose reporting obligations similar to those of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on private prisons contracting with federal agencies.

“As the federal government increasingly turns to private, for-profit companies to incarcerate federal prisoners, we must ensure that information about the operation of private prisons and detention facilities is readily available. This legislation will lift the veil of secrecy surrounding private facilities and will hold them accountable to the public,” Lieberman said.

Approximately 25,000 federal criminal prisoners are jailed in private facilities at any given time, and more than 20% of the 200,000 immigrants and asylum seekers detained annually by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are held in 33 private detention centers.

Studies by criminal justice groups have shown that correctional officers at privately run prisons are paid less well, receive less training, and experience higher turnover rates than those at prisons run by government agencies. This can lead to greater rates of assaults on staff, inmate on inmate assaults, and escape attempts. Immigration advocates report that private immigration detention facilities rely on psychotropic medication as a management tool for their non-criminal population. The Private Prison Information Act would help prevent abuse and unlawful conduct at private prisons by requiring public disclosure of information about the operation of these facilities.

The bill, which was introduced Friday, was endorsed by associations and unions representing law enforcement and correctional officers, including the Connecticut Correctional Employees Union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association, and the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. The bill also has the support of more than two dozen human rights, immigrant, and legal justice groups, including: Asian American Justice Center, Center for Constitutional Rights, Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigration Law Center, Physicians for Human Rights, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. The bill is also supported by government employee unions, including AFGE and AFSCME.