July 17, 2013 in Idaho

Prison operator asks judge to bar media

Associated Press
 

BOISE – Private prison company Corrections Corporation of America is asking a federal judge to deny a request from news organizations to keep documents open in a lawsuit over conditions at a CCA-run prison in Idaho.

A coalition of 17 news organizations including The Spokesman-Review, the Associated Press, KBOI-TV and the Idaho Statesman asked to intervene in the lawsuit to oppose CCA’s request to seal a variety of documents in the case. The coalition contends the protective order sought by Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA would hamper the ability of journalists to report on the lawsuit; CCA maintains the secrecy is needed for security and privacy reasons.

In a document filed Tuesday, CCA contends that news organizations have no First Amendment right to civil proceedings and that the news groups only want to cover something scandalous.

The issue arose in a lawsuit filed by eight inmates at the CCA-operated Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise last fall. The inmates contend that chronic understaffing and mismanagement at the prison led to an attack in which they were jumped, beaten, stabbed and slashed by members of an inmate gang. CCA has denied those allegations.

CCA’s attorneys have asked U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge for a protective order that would allow the company to designate documents and other discovery material confidential if CCA officials believed it was necessary, and attorneys for the inmates have opposed the order saying it was too broad and amounted to giving CCA a “blank check” to keep everything hidden from public view.

The request to intervene by the media groups – including the Post Register, Idaho Press Club, Idaho Press-Tribune, the Times-News, Lewiston Tribune, Moscow-Pullman Daily News and others – came last month, with the news organizations arguing that because CCA operates a state prison, it is acting as a quasi-governmental agency and so the press and public need to have access to the documents so they can fully understand and report on the quality of CCA’s work operating the prison and safeguarding the population therein.

CCA’s attorneys counter that the U.S. Supreme Court has never weighed in on whether news organizations hold a First Amendment right to cover civil lawsuits in the same way that they have the right to cover criminal cases.

Other news organizations in the coalition include the Coeur d’Alene Press, Bonner County Daily Bee, Challis Messenger, Shelley Pioneer, Jefferson Star, Pioneer News Group and the Newspaper Association of Idaho.

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