When Governments aren’t transparent

Today I found in Digg, this interesting NYT article:

Information That Doesn’t Come Freely
by Clark Hoyt

NINA BERNSTEIN, a Times reporter, wrote a front-page article last June about the deaths of prisoners in the fastest-growing form of incarceration in America, immigration detention.

Civil rights attorneys believed that, since the start of 2004, about 20 people had died while in custody facing possible deportation, but a spokeswoman for the federal immigration agency told Bernstein a surprising fact: the number was 62. Bernstein asked for details, like who they were and how they died. The spokeswoman refused, so Bernstein did what reporters often do “” she filed a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act, known as FOIA, for what she believed should be public records. Although the law required the agency to answer such a simple request within 20 business days, Immigration and Customs Enforcement initially responded the way many agencies do “” with silence.

Bernstein, who has a busy beat, immigration in the New York area, wrote her article without the details and moved on. But months later, right around Thanksgiving, she received an envelope containing a chart listing the people who had died in immigration detention “” now 66 of them “” with their dates of birth and death, the locations where they had been held, where they had died and the causes of death. Her FOIA request had been granted. That led Bernstein to a front-page article published last Monday about Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old tailor from Guinea, who fell while in detention, received no medical care for 15 hours and died of severe head injuries.

To read the rest of the artcile, please go here.