Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Washington Prisoners Must Pre-Pay for Record Inspection

The Washington Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court?s refusal to require the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) to allow prisoners to inspect records without pre-payment of copy and postage expenses.

WDOC Policy No. 280.510 grants prisoners a right of access on demand only to documents in their own file. Any other [d]ocuments approved for disclosure are copied and mailed only after a 20 cent per page copying charge and postage expenses are received.

WDOC prisoner Brandt Sappenfield made several written requests to inspect certain Corrections records (not his own file)... under RCW 42.17, Washington's public disclosure act (PDA). Citing Policy No. 280.510, the prison's public disclosure coordinator compiled 187 pages of documents requested by ... Sappenfield and told him that these would be mailed upon receipt of $46.62.

Sappenfield treated this response as a denial of his PDA requests, and filed an administrative appeal challenging the validity of the Corrections policy.Sappenfield alleged the policy was contrary to RCW 42.17.270 through .290 and was invalid on its face and as applied to his request.

WDOC's central PDA administrator denied the appeal because the requested records were not part of ... Sappenfield's file and were therefore subject to its policy regarding pre-payment of costs.

Later ... Sappenfield asked to inspect two additional sets of records.
Corrections again responded that there would be a 20 cents per page charge plus postage. The charges would total $208.48 and $16.93 respectively.... Sappenfield again replied that he wished only to inspect the documents, not to receive copies, and that he was unwilling to pay any fees. He asked to inspect the records himself. He did not suggest that a non-prisoner representative be allowed to inspect them for him.
... Sappenfield also wrote the state attorney general and asked for a review of Corrections' denial of his request for personal inspection of the records. He again did not mention the idea of a representative. An assistant attorney general explained that Corrections' response was not a refusal to disclose the records.

Sappenfield then sued for an order for Corrections to show cause why the records should not be made available for personal inspection. The trial court dismissed the action, finding ?that Corrections complied with the PDA by making copies available by mail at a reasonable charge.

The State Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal order, finding that [t]he trial court ... correctly concluded that the Corrections' policy is reasonable. [Prisoners] have access without charge to their own personal records. Access to additional public records can be obtained by means of copies mailed upon payment of a reasonable fee. The appellate court concluded that WDOC's procedures appropriately balance public disclosure act mandates with its duty to manage prisoners. See: Sappenfield v. Department of Corrections, 127 Wash.App. 83, 110 P.3d 808 (Wash.App. Div. 3, 2005), petition for review denied, 156 Wash.2d 1013, 132 P.3d 146 (Wash. 2006).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Sappenfield v. Department of Corrections