FOI at Work: As detention of immigrants grows, so do private prison profits…

A fabulous piece of FOI-driven reporting from the Associated Press:

The Associated Press, seeking to tally the scope of the private facilities, add up their cost and the amounts the companies spend on lobbying and campaign donations, reviewed more than 10 years’ worth of federal and state records. It found a complex, mutually beneficial and evidently legal relationship between those who make corrections and immigration policy and a few prison companies. Some of those companies were struggling to survive before toughened immigrant detention laws took effect.

A decade ago, just 10 percent of the beds in the nation’s civil detention system were in private facilities with little federal oversight. Now, about half the beds are part of a sprawling, private system, largely controlled by just three companies: Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp.

And the growth is far from over, despite the sheer drop in illegal immigration in recent years.

CCA was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2000 due to lawsuits, management problems and dwindling contracts. Last year, the company reaped $162 million in net income. Federal contracts made up 43 percent of its total revenues, in part thanks to rising immigrant detention.

GEO, which cites the immigration agency as its largest client, saw its net income jump from $16.9 million to $78.6 million since 2000.

At the same time, the three businesses have spent at least $45 million combined on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal level in the last decade, the AP found…

 

The most daunting day-to-day obstacle to FOI: money…

A pal of mine at the Columbia Daily Tribune offers a timely reminder of the frustrations requesters face daily when seeking information….

UM President Tim Wolfe has had some 90 suggestions sent to him through the online suggestion box he launched late last month.

I know this because I put in a Sunshine Law request for them. And, once again, university officials are asking the Tribune to pay for the time they say is needed to separate anything that might be exempted from the open records law.

The total charge for my request is $55.30.

That includes $9.75 for 10 minutes to locate the information. How do they come up with that? Apparently, they’re going to ask someone who makes $50.70 an hour to find the records (which are all sent through one online portal).

Then, they want 10 cents a page for the 90 e-mails for copying costs, even though I don’t want paper but rather emails so I’m not sure what “copies” they’re referring to.

What we’re not willing to pay for is the $36.55 they say is needed to separate closed and open records. That’s because we do not believe the law requires the public or news outlet making a request to pay for separating closed material from open documents.

 

On the sunshine soap opera playing out in California…

NFOIC chief Ken Bunting puts the dispute into perspective:

City councils, public commissions, county and school boards and special district governing bodies in California may continue to hold their meetings in the figurative “sunlight,” as well they should.

But in an action that has received little notice except for niche blogs, the 59-year-old “Brown Act,” the state open meetings law that compels them to hold most deliberations, discussions and decision-making sessions in public, was largely eviscerated four weeks ago.

The legislature had its reasons — too little money, supposedly — and I will try and restrain my inner cynic and its tendency to see more sinister motives. But a series of recent events provides a sound and ample context for those suspicions.

Five months before the Legislature suspended key provisions of the Brown Act, the district attorney’s office in Los Angeles County informed the Board of Supervisors that a meeting it had held behind closed doors with Gov. Jerry Brown was a clear violation of the state’s open meeting law. The DA took no follow-up action. And, while government leaders in the most populous county in the nation’s most populous state may have been a bit chagrined, their public posture was anything but apologetic.

Then, just two months before the Legislature gutted the Brown Act, Los Angeles County settled a lawsuit brought by Californians Aware (CalAware), a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes governmental accountability and openness, over that meeting with Brown–and two other illegal meetings last September…