By Dan Barrett, staff attorney, Vermont ACLU, and director, New England First Amendment Coalition
When a state contracts out a government function to a private contractor, does the contractor become subject to the state’s public records act? That’s the question posed by a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Vermont last week on behalf of Prison Legal News, a monthly periodical.
For the last decade, Vermont has contracted with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to house some of its prisoners. CCA, the nation’s largest private prison corporation, houses the prisoners in facilities that it owns or operates, mainly in Tennessee and Kentucky, and provides them with everything that the Vermont Department of Corrections would — uniforms, health care, jobs, exercise facilities, mail, etc.
In the fall of 2012, Prison Legal News wrote to CCA and asked for information about lawsuits filed against it by Vermont prisoners alleging that they had been injured in a CCA facility. When CCA ignored the request, the ACLU of Vermont filed suit on behalf of Prison Legal News to force the disclosure of the records.
The issue of whether private contractors who stand in the shoes of the government are covered by the public records act is a new question in Vermont. Open government advocates are concerned that as government budgets shrink and more government functions are outsourced, records of what the government is doing will disappear.
The suit was filed in the Vermont Superior Court in Montpelier, and
filings are available online.