On March 25 I sent a request to Annalise Boucher, assistant to Warden Daniel Martin at Wyatt Detention Facility asking for information about the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees now being held at for-profit prison. My request was in the form of a casual email, and the information I sought was not comprehensive, but surprisingly I received a packet in the mail from the law firm representing the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation (CFDFC), Pannone, Lopes, Devereaux & O’Gara. The CFDFC runs the Wyatt.
I had asked for “any information Wyatt Detention may have regarding the recent agreements with the US Marshall Service to house ICE detainees. Copies of contracts, copies of prisoner records, copies of public documents pertaining to Wyatt meeting with Federal officials about this new deal, etc.”
Less than a week later I received a packet in the mail from the lawyers. While I received the requested copies of the contracts, the prisoner records were denied to me on the grounds that the inmates maintain “a significant privacy interest and no cognizable interest has been identified that would be be advanced through disclosure.”
Further, the “request for information are also specifically denied pursuant to [Rhode Island General Laws] in that the request seeks information, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” wrote the lawyers.
The so-called “privacy concerns” cited by the Wyatt’s lawyers are, in my opinion, bullshit. Rhode Island maintains an inmate search database, which makes it relatively easy to find out a host of details about those being incarcerated. There is no expectation of privacy or privacy interest of concern in this instance. All sorts of information is available about inmates held at the Adult Correctional Institutions here in Rhode Island. A for-profit, private prison should not enjoy less transparency than a public institution.
Today I sent an email to Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha‘s office appealing the decision of the CFDFC. In the letter, I outline a few of the reasons that it is important to make the information about those being detained public.
Here’s the email I sent:
Dear Mr Lynees,
My name is Steve Ahlquist and i am a professional journalist with UpriseRI.com. I recently filed an APRA [Access to Public Records Request] with the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation (CFDFC), a quasi public entity answerable under for the Open Meetings and the APRA. I am specifically seeking information about the people presently being incarcerated the United States Marshall Service at the Wyatt Detention Facility. These people are being detained under the Southwest Border Zero Tolerance initiative. In many, if not most cases, the only crime committed by these detainees is having entered the United States without documentation.
My request for a list of people being held was denied by the lawyers for CFDFC on the grounds that the inmates maintain “a significant privacy interest and no cognizable interest has been identified that would be be advanced through disclosure.
“The request for information are also specifically denied pursuant to RIGL in that the request seeks information, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” write the lawyers.
I am appealing this decision on several grounds:
- While it is true that prisoners have privacy rights, the specifics as to a prisoners name, age, gender, country of origin, and specifics of why the prisoner is being detained are of significant interest to a public that wants to be informed about the actions of its government.
- Rhode Island maintains an inmate search database, which makes it relatively easy to find out a host of details about those being incarcerated. There is no expectation of privacy or privacy interest of concern in this instance.
- Concealing the names of the inmates at the Wyatt makes it almost impossible to research who is being detained, or to reach out with community aid and assistance. It makes it impossible to interview relatives and friends about the condition of the inmate’s imprisonment. It masks the process of the current administration’s immigration policy.
- There is a corporate interest in keeping the identities of the detainees from the public. The for-profit prison industry wants to be understood as protecting the public from violent offenders, not ordinary people crossing a border in search of a better life. But the interests of the corporation cannot be placed higher than the interests of a public that needs to know who is being indefinitely detained in our country and why.
- The Wyatt has a checkered history when it comes to detaining immigrants. Jason Ng was infamously killed while in detention, and though there are some new safeguards in place, the public has a right to know that these safeguards are working for specific individuals currently incarcerated. Without the identity of these individuals, the public cannot know.
It is my opinion that the lawyers for the CFDFC are not so much interested in protecting the privacy interests of those presently incarcerated at Wyatt under the Southwest Border Zero Tolerance initiative as they are in keeping the public from knowing who these men and women are, why they are being detained, and the terrible conditions under which ordinary people are being subjected to for the “crime” of crossing a border.
In my letter I am making the point that there is a public interest in having information about who is being incarcerated at the Waytt, and why. Let’s hope newly elected Attorney General Peter Neronha agrees.
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