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Nonprofits file amicus brief defending Florida public records law

MIAMI -- The First Amendment Foundation, ACLU of Florida and the Southern Poverty Law Center have filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs in the case Human Rights Defense Center v. Armor Correctional Health Services Inc.  

The brief was filed due to the organizations’ longstanding interest in preserving an open and transparent government and protecting the public’s right to access public records, including public records held by private companies that provide services to Florida’s incarcerated population.    

The Human Rights Defense Center filed a public records request with Armor Correctional Health Services, which provides medical care in Florida prisons, seeking details of its treatment of incarcerated people. The trial judge dismissed the case because Armor is a private company and any request for information needed to go through the Florida Department of Corrections. Human Rights Defense Center is appealing to the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami, arguing that by working in a prison on a state contract Armor is required to comply with Florida public records laws.  

The following is a statement from Kelly Knapp, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center.  

“Any lawyer who represents people in prison can tell you that it’s incredibly difficult to get information on what is going on behind bars. Organizations like ours rely on Florida’s public record laws to make sure that the law is being followed. But with the privatization of so many prison functions, it’s become harder than ever to uncover what is happening to people inside. Private companies getting public money should be required to answer to the public.” 

The following is a statement from Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida.  

The public must be able to access information about the government in an open and transparent way. Our democracy depends on the public’s right to know what the government is doing, and access to public information is a constitutional right that must be protected.” 

The following is a statement from Pamela Marsh, President of the First Amendment Foundation. 

“Access to records of government contractors is critical as more prison services are privatized. These records are necessary for the public and the press to oversee the conditions of Florida prisons and jails. Forcing the public to sue a government entity, rather than a contractor acting on behalf of an agency, unnecessarily drags out the enforcement of a public records request and increases the costs of enforcing the constitutional right of public access.” 

The Amicus brief can be read here.