IL Dept. of Corrections on the Hot Seat for Allegedly Refusing FOIA Requests

Chicago, IL – Prison Legal News (PLN) filed a lawsuit today in the Circuit Court of Cook County against the Illinois Dept. of Corrections (IDOC), alleging violations of the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). PLN, a monthly news publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues, is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center.

On March 27, 2015, PLN filed public records requests seeking documents related to a number of services provided to Illinois state prisoners, including telephone, email, video visitation, money transfer, inmate package, commissary and other services, which are typically contracted to for-profit companies.

For example, the IDOC’s inmate phone services are provided by Securus Technologies. In fiscal year 2012, Securus paid $12.9 million in “commission” kickbacks to the IDOC as part of its monopoly contract with the state. The IDOC charges $3.55 for a 15-minute call made from a state prison – rates that are overwhelmingly paid by prisoners’ family members.

PLN sought copies of the contracts for various inmate services, as well as the amount of “commission” payments the IDOC has received from its contractors. In response, the IDOC aggregated the separate requests into one, and then stated the production of the documents would be unduly burdensome. They then ignored a follow-up response.

According to PLN’s suit, “…IDOC has denied PLN’s requests not because of the alleged burden but because IDOC knows that PLN will use the information to expose profiteering at the expense of the incarcerated and their families.” PLN referred to for-profit contracts that monetize prison services – even basic communication between prisoners and their families – as a “large and lucrative industry.” The contracts and commission data are being sought as part of the Human Rights Defense Center’s Stop Prison Profiteering campaign and its Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, www.phonejustice.org.

“Not only is the Illinois DOC colluding with hedge fund-owned telecommunications companies to monetize human contact among prisoners’ families, but they are actively obstructing efforts by the media to report the nature and extent of this monetization,” said PLN editor Paul Wright. “Given the long history of corruption in Illinois contracting, transparency and openness should be welcomed by the prison system, not obstructed.”

“The Illinois FOIA makes clear that it is the right and duty of the public to monitor government to ensure it is being conducted in the public interest,” said attorney Matthew Topic of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law. “Rather than spend a few hours gathering and producing these records, IDOC makes the outrageous claim that the issue is not important enough to justify the alleged ‘burden’ of complying with the law.”

Noting that all of the requested documents “pertain to the receipt or use of public funds and therefore are per se non-exempt,” and claiming the IDOC has “willfully and intentionally violated” the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, PLN’s suit requests declaratory and injunctive relief, including production of the records, as well as civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs.

PLN is represented by attorney Matthew Topic with the Chicago law firm of Loevy & Loevy.
The case is Prison Legal News v. Illinois Dept. of Corrections, Circuit Court of Cook County, IL, County Department, Chancery Division, Case No. 2015-CH-11292.

The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Lake Worth, Florida, is a
non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has around 9,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.

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