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

Disclosure of Drug Detecting Devices and Specific Operation Details at Prison Prohibited

Pro se Pennsylvania state prisoner George Vargo petitioned for review of documents regarding drug detection equipment after the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) denied disclosure in 1998. The court affirmed the denial as to specific methods used to detect drugs and the equipment used, but reversed denial as to policies and qualifications of administering personnel.

Vargo requested inspection and copying of any and all visitation policies and procedures including visitation termination for drug violations in place at SCI Huntingdon where he was incarcerated in 1997. His request also included documents concerning scientific drug detection equipment; ion scanning equipment; the operation of such equipment, including specific functions, techniques, monitoring and calibration; specific accuracy issues relating to medications, colognes and perfumes; and the qualifications of all personnel administering these procedures. The DOC refused all but the visitation policies claiming that the documents were not public records under the Right to Know Act (Act), and that even if they were their production was exempt because it would threaten the personal security of individuals, did not include minutes, orders or decisions, and Vargo had no right to visits in prison.

The Second Division for the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held that the Act was not limited to the disclosure of minutes, orders or decisions of any agency, and that the meaning of section 1(2) of the Act mitigated disclosure for "some form of action by an agency that has an effect on someone." The court concluded that the documents were public record and discloseable with the exception of the identity of the equipment, the operation of such including calibration and accuracy, and policies relating to such because the possible deleterious results outweighed the public's interest in disclosure. See: Vargo v. Department of Corrections, 715 A.2d 1233 (Pa. Commw. 1998).

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

Vargo v. Department of Corrections