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

Connecticut Prisoners’ FOIA Indigence Determination Cannot Include Cost of Incarceration

Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission (Commission) has declared void a Connecticut Department of Corrections (CDOC) policy that denied fee waivers to indigent prisoners who file Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. The Commission ordered the CDOC to use the same guidelines that apply to members of the general public when determining whether a prisoner is indigent.

The ruling came in state prisoner Richard R. Quint’s second complaint in a year that challenged the CDOC’s handling of prisoner FOI requests. In his first complaint, Quint challenged CDOC’s redaction of prison employees’ first names on documents provided pursuant to a FOI request. The Commission held that the first names of Connecticut public employees were a matter of public record, and there was no evidence that disclosure of the names was a security risk. See: Quint v. Warden, State of Connecticut, Department of Correction, Northern Correctional Institution, FIC Docket No. 2005-410.

Quint’s second complaint was filed after the CDOC provided him with 549 pages to satisfy a FOI request, then imposed an obligation of $137.25 against his prison trust account. Quint argued he was indigent, but the CDOC contended that under its policy promulgated pursuant to the state’s FOI Act he did not qualify as indigent.

Under a December 2006 policy, the CDOC created two standards to determine if a prisoner is indigent – one for property and the other for services. In matters of property, a prisoner is deemed indigent when his account balance has not exceeded five dollars for the previous 90 days and he has less than that amount in any other known source.

As to matters related to services, services are to be provided and the prisoner’s account “shall be encumbered for payment of the fees associated with the specific service provided.” To satisfy the obligation, 20% of all funds received in the prisoner’s account is credited against the obligation. Copies cost twenty-five cents per page, thus the $137.25 levied against Quint’s prison account.

The CDOC argued that its policy was necessary to allow the department “to limit, control and deal with such freedom of information requests.” In its brief filed with the Commission, the CDOC stated, “Given the large volume of freedom of information requests the CDOC receives from inmates, there needs to be a system in place that ensures these requests are not frivolous and harassing in nature.”

The CDOC then engaged in a game of semantics. Prison officials contended they were in compliance with the FOI Act because the CDOC’s policy provided for the “waiver” of fees. The definition of “waive” includes “to defer or postpone,” and the policy did that by only taking 20% of all funds to satisfy the FOI copy fee obligation. The Commission, however, found there was nothing in any statute, regulation or case law that would lead to the conclusion that “waive any fee” means anything other than “provide free of charge.”

The Commission held that under the CDOC’s policy, no prisoner was indigent for copy fee purposes, and no prisoner’s FOI fees were waived. This resulted in improper and illegal discrimination between prisoners and non-prisoners for FOI purposes, which not only violated state law but also contradicted the Commission’s previous ruling that required the CDOC to “apply the same standard of indigence to all FOI Act requests to inmates that it applies to other inmate matters generally.” Instead, the CDOC maintained a property standard and a services standard that effectively denied fee waivers.

In response to the issue of indigent fee waivers, the CDOC argued that because it spends more than $27,000 per year in housing, food, clothing and other costs for each prisoner, more than double the poverty line, prisoners are unlikely to meet the typical definition of indigence. The Commission took notice of the fact that members of the public would be eligible for FOI fee waivers even while having most of their basic needs supplied through public assistance.

To ensure that the CDOC maintained objective, fair, consistent and reasonable standards of indigence for prisoners, the Commission ordered relief in two parts. First, the $137.25 obligation imposed on Quint’s prison account was vacated. Second, the CDOC must “apply a uniform standard of indigence to all requests for public records, whether those requests come from inmates or from the general public.”

The CDOC was further prohibited from including the cost of incarceration as an asset when determining prisoners’ indigence for fee waiver purposes. See: Quint v. Food Service Division, State of Connecticut, Department of Correction, FIC Docket No. 2006-683. Both Quint rulings can be found on PLN’s on line brief bank.

Additional source: Hartford Courant

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 cases

Quint v. Food Service Division, State of Connecticut, Department of Correction

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.

Quint v. Warden, State of Connecticut, Department of Correction, Northern Correctional Institution

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.