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Public Has Right to Investigative Reports from Wyoming Prisons

A Wyoming federal district court has held that the public has a right and responsibility to review investigative reports of incidents at the Wyoming Sate Prison (WSP).

The Court's ruling comes in a class action suit initiated by WSP prisoner Brad Skinner, alleging prison officials failed to protect him and other WSP prisoners from unprovoked assaults by other prisoners. In November 2002, the Court found the defendants "had failed to adequately train and supervise their employees, failed to develop an effective internal review process for the reporting of policy violations, and failed to properly discipline employees, leading to risks for inmate safety." See: Skinner v. Uphoff, 234 F.Supp.2d 1208 (D. Wyo. 2002).

The remedied plan required defendants to provide certain documents and information to the Joint Expert and Plaintiffs' counsel. Some information was confidential, leading to a protective order to prevent dissemination of that information. Because problems arose with disclosure of the documents, both parties filed motions to modify the relief.

The first issue involved disclosure of documents, as the redaction process to protect confidential information was not working. Plaintiffs' counsel sought to release non-confidential information to prisoners, as it related to conditions of confinement. Over the Defendants' objection, the Court held prisoners have a right to that information. The Court further held the public has the same right, which "should help to deter substandard performance at the WSP."

But the Court also held that state and federal law clearly prevents the publication of materials relating to medical records, personnel records and criminal history records. Accordingly, the Defendants were ordered to redact all confidential and privileged information, or any information, under the reasonable person standard, that would identify prisoners who have cooperated, are cooperating or will cooperate with prison officials. The defendants were admonished not to "redact information simply because it reflects negatively upon the WDOC or the WSP."

Plaintiffs' counsel was ordered to return any documents they possess to Defendants for proper redaction, and should they find any documents provided in the future with information that is confidential or privileged they are to return it to the Defendants for redaction before dissemination.

The Defendants also sought to extend the time periods to complete investigations. The Court stated that "each additional day requested by Defendants to complete the investigation process increases the risk of injury to the inmates at WSP."

The one area the Court found necessitated more time to complete because of its complexity was referring incidents to outside investigators. The Court, therefore, allowed the Defendants to amend their policies to allow an extra 14 days on investigations referred to outside investigators, but denied permission to lengthen other types of investigations beyond the then-allowed 30-day limit.

The Court entered an order to the above effect. See: Skinner v. Uphoff, USDC WY, Case No. 02-CV-033-B (Sept. 27, 2005), 2005 WL 4089333.

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Related legal case

Skinner v. Uphoff