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BOP Settles Suit Over Telephone Access, Electronic FOIA Claims

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has agreed to settle another lawsuit brought by PLN contributing writer, Brandon Sample.The settlement resolves several disputes between Sample and the BOP. Sample had complained, for instance, that the call prompt announced over the prisoner telephone systems requiring called parties to push the number five before being connected violated his First Amendment rights.

Sample had attempted to contact various government agencies via telephone, but the agencies could not accept his calls because they were answered by an automated telephone answering system (ATAS). ATASs are incapable of pushing “5.” The BOP agreed to settle the push “5” issue by allowing Sample to contact several different pre-designated government agencies using a normal telephone.

The BOP also agreed to resolve Sample’s claim that the BOP was in noncompliance with 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(2) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Under § 552(a)(2), government agencies are required to post various records on the Internet in their FOIA public reading room. Records that are required to be posted include “final opinions…made in the adjudication of cases.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(2)(A).

Sample alleged that each grievance response the BOP issued constituted a “final opinion made in the adjudication of a case” and was therefore required to be made available on the BOP’s website. To resolve this claim, BOP agreed to do three things.

First, the BOP agreed to assess the feasibility of placing all its administrative remedy responses on the Internet in the BOP’s electronic FOIA reading room. The BOP will report back to Sample with its feasibility findings by December 2009. If the BOP finds the posting of its grievance responses infeasible, Sample retains the right to re-litigate the issue.

Second, BOP agreed to give Sample computer access to view FOIA material sent to him in electronic format. This provision resolves an issue left open by Sample v. Bureau of Prisons, 466 F.3d 1086 (D.C. Cir. 2006), which held that the BOP was required to provide prisoners with FOIA material in electronic format, but that FOIA did not require the BOP to provide Sample with access to a computer to inspect FOIA material obtained in electronic form.

Finally, the BOP agreed to allow Sample to send FOIA requests and inquiries to the BOP’s FOIA office electronically using the BOP’s Trust Fund Limited Inmate Communication System (TRULINCS). TRULINCS is the BOP’s new e-mail system that allows prisoners to exchange messages with individuals, businesses and other entities in the community. TRULINCS is slated to be installed in all BOP institutions by mid-2011.

Sample represented himself throughout the case. See: Sample v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, No. 06-715 (PLF) (D.Col. 2008). The settlement is posted on PLN’s website.

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Related legal cases

Sample v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

Sample v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

Sample v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

Sample v. Federal Bureau of Prisons