Monday, January 25, 2010

FOIA Laws in Private Prisons

Yesterday, I attended a Congressional briefing for House bill 2450 that would extend the Freedom of Information Act to private prison companies that government agencies contract to handle federal prisoners. Fulton County jail came up as evidence of why the government has had to outsource to private companies: overcrowding, human rights violations, etc. But the horrible thing is that these private prisons are worse for prisoners because of low pay for guards, huge turnover rates (meaning that the guards are not educated b/c they are new to the job often times), and inadequate health facilities. AND since these prison companies are not government agencies the media cannot get any information on their practices, facilities, or the inmates. They are exempt from FOIA laws, but still paid with taxpayer money.

A lawyer from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) read the testimony of a man who stayed in one of these federal prisons. It is pretty horrific. Here is the link: http://www.aclu.org/files/images/asset_upload_file841_32062.pdf

It is absolutely the tip of the ice-berg. But what disturbed me even more were people's reaction to this testimony and the other inhumane accounts that were presented. Hill staffers were eating the free food, messing with their blackberries, and walking in and out of the room. They were so desensitized! I was on the verge of tears and no one seemed to notice the shock value I was reacting to.

This reminded me of the arguments Jessie and I had with our mother over Christmas break about all the problems with Fulton County Jail--the rapes, the inadequate health care, etc. We became enraged by the small anecdotal hearsay mom relayed to us, and we were shocked at how she didn't share in our physical reaction. But I am beginning to see how naive I am in thinking that these problems are unique. This town has a way of empowering and at the same time making you feel hopeless.

These were just thoughts that i was gripping with as i wrote the story about the briefing for the website.www.rcfp.org. It will be up online tonight, but it will be simple and won't convey the emotion i felt.

In more positive news-- i got assigned a 750 word spread for the magazine! YAY! i am writing about the Prop. 8 case out of California. interns never get stories! and they are only giving me 3 days to do interviews and finish it, so the pressure is on!

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