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TN ACLU and media organizations file amicus brief in PLN appeal

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2009.
Press Release - TN ACLU and media organizations file amicus brief in PLN appeal - 2009

ACLU-TN and Journalist Groups File Amicus Brief Supporting Right to Access Corrections Corporation Of America Documents


March 3, 2009

CONTACT: Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director, ACLU of Tennessee, (615) 615-480-5572;

NASHVILLE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN), joined by five national journalist groups, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of efforts by a monthly prisoners’ rights magazine to gain access to documents in the possession of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the Nashville-based private prison company that operates prisons and jails across the country.

The amicus curiae brief, also signed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society for Newspaper Editors, the Associated Press, and the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, urges the Court of Appeals in Tennessee to uphold the lower court’s ruling that CCA must comply with the Tennessee Public Records Act (TPRA) and provide access to certain documents. The brief also asks the Court to overturn Chancellor Bonnyman’s decision denying attorneys fees to Prison Legal News (PLN) which it incurred as a result of CCA’s refusal to produce public records in its possession.

"There is no more core government function than incarcerating people convicted of crimes and sentenced to jail or prison time. The conditions in which prisoners live and the treatment they receive should always be a matter of public record," said Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of ACLU of Tennesse. "CCA provides a core government function and must abide by the Tennessee Public Records Act."

Alex Friedmann, an associate editor at Prison Legal News (PLN), sued CCA last May for refusing to respond to his requests under the Tennessee Public Record Act (TPRA) for documents regarding pending litigation involving CCA. CCA argued that because it is not a public agency, it did not fall under the jurisdiction of TRPA.

But Davidson County Chancery Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled in late July that CCA is required to abide by TPRA’s regulations because by running the state’s jails and prisons under a contract with the Tennessee Department of Corrections, it performs a public duty. CCA appealed the ruling.

Chancellor Bonnyman, however, did not order CCA to reimburse Friedmann and the Prison Legal News for the attorney’s fees they incurred by being forced to resort to litigation in an effort to force CCA to provide the documents.

According to Lucy Daglish, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, "When you deny citizens the right to recover attorneys fees, you're sending the message that they shouldn't bother to challenge denials of records requests. We should be encouraging citizens to be more engaged in what their tax dollars are being used for - not less."

Weinberg continued, "One of the primary reasons TPRA exists is to ensure that the public, regardless of their socio-economic status, have access to public documents. Individuals who are unlawfully stymied in their efforts to get access to public documents should not have to shoulder the financial burden when public agencies choose not to follow the law."