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PLN managing editor cited in criticism of Temple University private prison study

Nashville Post, Jan. 1, 2013.
PLN managing editor cited in criticism of Temple University private prison study - Nashville Post 2013

Note: PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann also serves as president of the Private Corrections Institute.

CCA watchdog Friedmann criticizes study for its failure to cite funding source
Published May 23, 2013 by William Williams

(Editor’s note: Post Managing Editor William Williams wrote this blog late Wednesday after normal business hours and, as such, could not contact CCA officials given the timing. This morning, CCA asked for a chance to respond to the post. The blog post has since been modified to reflect the information CCA provided.)

Alex Friedmann continues his scrutiny of Corrections Corp. of America.

Friedmann, president of Nashville-based Private Corrections Institute and a former inmate at a CCA-run facility, on Wednesday issued a press release in which he criticizes the company for tweeting an op/ed about a Temple University study that claims financial savings through prison privatization while failing to note industry members helped fund the study.

According to Friedmann, CCA did not mention in its tweet that the Temple Center for Competitive Government study was funded by the private corrections industry and by private prison firms. (Note: A quick glance of the study shows no reference to funding.) CCA cited the Temple study in its 2013 investor presentation, Friedmann said.

A Temple press release (read here) clearly discloses the funding for the piece, which is classified as a working paper.

CCA said its tweet referenced an op/ed published in The Oklahoman, not the Temple paper itself.

When contacted via phone, Friedmann (pictured) said ID-ing the funding source in a release is not the same as noting it in the study itself. Regardless, he argues, CCA's handling of the matter was not ideal.

In the release, Friedmann — arguably CCA’s most dogged watchdog and a staunch supporter of open records access — quotes Charles Scott, the former director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Ethics.

“An academic paper presents itself as providing objective knowledge. If that paper and research are funded by a for-profit business, then it is an ethical obligation of the authors to reveal that source of funding,” Scott is quoted.

(The Post was not aware until today, however, that the VU center recently held a two-day forum that included a panel on which Friedmann sat to criticize contractor-operated prisons.)

Dr. Simon Hakim, one of the study’s authors, countered Friedmann's view by noting the following in an emailed response:

“We are always completely transparent about funding. This is the normal course of action for working papers. When it’s formally published, we will yet again disclose the funding. Anyone who contacts us, we tell about the funding. In fact, just yesterday Mr. Friedmann called our public relations office, and they shared with him again that, as the press release clearly indicates, the study received outside funding. 

“My colleague and co-author, Dr. Erwin Blackstone, and I each have over 40 years of experience in academia. We feel strongly that our work has been and will continue to be handled transparently and ethically."

You may recall that last March, the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled in favor of CCA, and against Friedmann, on the company’s request to exclude a shareholder resolution (filed by Friedmann, of course) regarding its planned REIT conversion from its proxy materials in advance of the company’s annual meeting in May. (Read more here.)

Had the SEC sided with Friedmann, the resolution would have required CCA’s board of directors to issue a report to stockholders addressing issues related to REIT conversion.

Friedmann, a CCA stockholder, may have failed in that effort but he remains determined in his scrutiny of CCA.