African Americans comprise about half of the more than 100,000 inmates in Florida prisons and jails.
Black males aged 30–34 have the highest incarceration rate of any race, age or gender group in the Sunshine State, which boasts the third-largest prison population in the United States.
Against that backdrop, an amicus brief filed this week in the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami is critical.
The First Amendment Foundation, ACLU of Florida and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the brief supporting the plaintiffs in Human Rights Defense Center v. Armor Correctional Health Services Inc.
The issue centers around a lack of access to information about medical treatment provided to inmates by Armor Correctional Health Services, a private company. The Human Rights Defense Center argues that by working in prison on a state contract, Armor must comply with Florida public records laws.
“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 has 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,” said Kelly Knapp, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The public must be able to access information about the government in an open and transparent way,” said Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida.
Exacerbating the alarm for civil and human rights organizations is the record of malpractice that private prison companies in Florida have.
The organizations argued in their brief that the sheer number of lawsuits against private contractors providing prison services underscores the need for effective monitoring in prisons.