This is why private prisons shouldn’t control access to their records

After two years and charging a rate of dollar a page, CCA responds to request for grievance logs with 78 pages of big black boxes

Written by Beryl Lipton
Edited by JPat Brown

In the first months of the Private Prison Project, we sent out a number of requests for the ways grievances are reported in state prisons and for the grievances themselves. Our inquiry immediately ran into some snags; agencies claimed that such complaints were too multitudinous or organized too disparately to provide in a reasonable time with reasonable cost. Many reminded me that many elements of the grievances can be kept confidential. Particularly common was the claim that the materials are managed by the institutions themselves, as was the case with the New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility (since renamed Northwest New Mexico Correctional Facility).

In its initial, immediate response to my request, the New Mexico Corrections Department stated that it would submit my request to CCA headquarters for response “as it sees fit.” (Since then, Corrections Corporation of America has rebranded as CoreCivic.)

When I then asked the New Mexico Department of Corrections to confirm that they didn’t receive copies of the grievances at all, Ms. Catherine Earl, the records officer at the time, promptly responded to tell me that they do receive some appeals, but that they’re returned to the facility after the Department has ruled on it.

So I waited for the “as it saw fit” response from the Company.

It never came.

So a new request went out by mail to CCA headquarters.

The response made clear that the company was not ceding that it must respond to the Inspection of Public Records Act, New Mexico’s public records law - it was doing so voluntarily to avoid litigation.

I failed to provide a timeframe - a mistake I’ll own - but to be honest, I wanted all of them, because the records I requested were primarily logs of grievances. In November 2015, they sent me the cost.

I wasn’t thrilled about making out a check to CCA’s lawyers, but nonetheless I did, and it was sent out. The response as they saw fit, it turns out, was 78 pages - at a dollar a page - of mostly black boxes.

The reasons for exemption are simply stated as “redacted,” without any indication of what legal basis there might be.

As the NM DOC told me, their ability to control the company’s response is basically non-existent, leaving only the Attorney General complaint system or litigation to challenge the decision.

MuckRock will be challenging this and other release decisions, but in the meantime, we’d love your help filling in some of the gaps CCA left in its reports. Have you or someone you know been an inmate at NM Women’s Correctional Facility? We’d love to listen to your story. Reach out at info@muckrock.com or on Twitter at @blip or @muckrock.


Image via Flickr and is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0