Open Records Request Filed at Start of Sunshine Week
BOCA RATON, FL – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has filed a public records request with Florida Atlantic University to obtain all documents relating to its sale of naming rights to its football stadium to private prison operator GEO Corp. for $6 million.
“We’re filing this request to identify what FAU officials knew about GEO, when they knew it, and why they insist on repeating GEO’s defenses of its horrendous record of abuse and neglect,” said Julie A. Ebenstein, staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida who filed the records request with Florida Atlantic University’s Board of Trustees and the Office of the President.
“We want to know: What facts is FAU censoring, and what are they hiding, as part of their contract with GEO?” said Ebenstein, who filed the request under the Florida Public Records Law today, the start of Sunshine Week, which celebrates the type of open public records laws the ACLU routinely files.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant – especially when a public university chooses to associate itself with business as dirty as for-profit prisons,” said Ebenstein.
The public records request asks for:
(1) All records of communications from January 1, 2012 to present between GEO and FAU employees and Board of Trustees; (2) all documents related to the “gift” and stadium naming rights; (3) all minutes or other documents reflecting discussions at the Board’s February 19, 2013 meeting; and (4) all FAU records related to the community opposition to the “gift” since February 19, 2013.
The ACLU of Florida and the ACLU National Prison Project have called on FAU President Saunders to reconsider the decision to sell the naming rights to its stadium to the Boca Raton- based Geo Corp. because of the company’s record in operating prisons for profit.
Last year, a federal judge issued a blistering order in a joint ACLU/Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit against the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, a GEO prison that held children and teenaged prisoners in Mississippi. Calling the GEO prison a “cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions” and “a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world,” the judge ordered mass transfers out of the prison and ordered the company to stop locking children in solitary confinement.
This action came not long after the U.S. Department of Justice issued a similar report describing staff sexual misconduct at Walnut Grove as “brazen” and among the worst that DOJ had seen “in any facility anywhere in the nation.” A month later, the State of Mississippi ended its relationship with GEO.
Making inroads into the Florida corrections system would indeed be a major business boon for the GEO Group. Currently, Florida operates the third-largest prison system in the United States, a $2.2 billion-a-year enterprise overseeing over 100,000 inmates and another 115,000 on community supervision. The prison population has more than doubled since 1990 and nearly quadrupled since 1984.
Of all states, Florida imprisons the second-highest number of prisoners – over 11,000 or approximately 11% of the state prison population – in private facilities. And about 10 miles from the FAU stadium, GEO operates the 700-bed Broward Transition Center, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center.
The Broward facility is the only immigration detention center in Florida run by a private company, under an annual $20 million contract with the federal government. BTC is unique in that it is reserved for immigrants who have committed no crime or a nonviolent offense. While many of the detainees pose no threat to the public, the conditions that detainees have alleged at BTC pose a substantial threat to their health and wellbeing.
A copy of the Public Records Request is available here: http://aclufl.org/resources/public-records-request-to-florida-atlantic-university-re-geo-group/
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About the ACLU of Florida
The ACLU of Florida is freedom’s watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For additional information, visit our web site at: www.aclufl.org.