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Prison newspaper wins open records suit in Tennessee

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  1. Freedom of Information
Prison Legal News won a victory in its pursuit of public records from Corrections Corporations of America, a private company…

Prison Legal News won a victory in its pursuit of public records from Corrections Corporations of America, a private company that runs prisons in Tennessee.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled that CCA was the functional equivalent of a state agency because it was performing a traditional state function in running a prison and thus it was subject to the state’s open records law.

“The providing of prisons is a responsibility that the State cannot delegate away to a private entity,” Judge D. Michael Swiney wrote for the court.

The court also ruled that the only some of records maintained by CCA would be public because of the Private Prison Contracting Act of 1986.

“The CCA argues that this statute expresses the General Assembly’s intent to make available through a private prison contractor only those inmate documents that would otherwise be available through the Public Records Act if the prison were being operated by the State, and all other records of the private prison contractor not so identified are not public records,” Swiney wrote.

The court agreed with that interpretation.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press joined a friend-of-the-court brief  filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee on behalf of Prison Legal News.