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WA DOC Sells Prisoner Information

In response to a Public Disclosure Act (PDA) request from PLN, the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) revealed that since at least 1995 it has been selling prisoner information to a variety of private and media companies. The private company data brokers in turn resell the information for a hefty price to anyone willing to pay for it.

The information being sold consists of "offender data files" culled from the DOC's Offender Based Tracking System (OBTS) computer database. (See side bar.) OBTS contains information on everyone who has ever been in DOC custody. This is public information under state law, see RCW 42.17 and RCW 10.97.040(4).

The information is provided to requestors on a mainframe computer tape for which the DOC charges $175 per tape. The amount of information is fairly large since it includes everyone who has ever been in the custody of the Washington DOC. Washington currently has approximately 15,000 prisoners in custody and another 55,000 people on "community supervision" status.

The media purchasers of this information are The Associated Press in New York (which includes virtually all U.S. corporate media), the Everett Herald newspaper, and KOMO 4 (ABC), KING 5 (NBC) and KIRO 7 (CBS) television stations in Seattle.

The data broker purchasers are: Sound Screening Services of Tacoma, WA; Commercial Information Systems of Portland, OR; Verifacts of Tacoma, WA; Tenant Tracker of Lubbock, TX; Intellidata Corporation of St. Petersburg, FL; Background Investigations of Lake Oswego, OR and Legal Locate Services of Puyallup, WA.

The data brokers sell the information to their clients, usually online, for fees ranging from $10 to $15 per name. This type of information is available from prison systems around the country. When exfelons apply for jobs, to rent housing, seek loans, etc., and are asked if they have a criminal history, that information can be readily verified, for a fee, by any of the data brokers who regularly buy this information from state governments around the country.

Since the information is deemed public there are no restrictions on its use or dissemination. In its sales contract the Washington DOC takes no responsibility for the accuracy or timeliness of the information it provides to its "customers."

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