Sunday, March 8, 2009

SPJ aids publication trying to get records from CCA

If you've ever looked at your SPJ renewal notice and wondered what that money goes toward, here's just one example: Helping people get public records. SPJ has signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief in an effort by the Prison Legal News to wrest records from the private Corrections Corp. of America. (Remember: The state's public records law says that records are public if they are in the possession of a private entity performing a government service in place of a governmental agency.)

Here's the whole statement from SPJ national:

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief written by the Tennessee ACLU supporting a magazine that won an open records battle in its quest to cover and analyze prisoners’ rights.

The brief supports the appeal of Prison Legal News, which is fighting off an appeal by the Corrections Corporation of America, a private company that operates state prisons in Tennessee, after a lower court determined that the CCA was subject to the state’s open records laws. The amicus brief argues that the trial court was correct in determining that the law in Tennessee requires contractors of the corrections system to turn over records upon public request, just as government agencies must do.

The Prison Legal News has also appealed the lower court’s decision to deny it attorneys’ fees in the case. “The Prison Legal News should have its legal fees paid by CCA,” said SPJ President Dave Aeikens. “It would serve as a good deterrent to those who refuse to release public information.”

Joining the ACLU and SPJ in supporting the Prison Legal News on appeal are the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Associated Press, and the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors.

This is the second case SPJ has supported in 2009 by joining an amicus brief. The last case, in January, involved the appeal of a historical society in Nebraska asking for open death records at a state mental hospital. Read about the case and SPJ’s support here. Learn about SPJ’s legal advocacy and other news items by reviewing the news archive here.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well- informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit

And you can read more about public records and FOI issues not only here but on the TCOG blog.

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