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Connecticut Restricts Prisoners’ FOIA Requests

by David M. Reutter

Last year, Connecticut enacted an exemption to the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that prevents disclosure of certain records requested by “any individual committed to the custody or supervision of the Commissioner of Correction or confined in a facility of the Whiting Forensic Division of the Connecticut Valley Hospital.”

Public Act No. 10-58, which became effective on May 26, 2010, prohibits the disclosure to said individuals of a “personnel or medical file or similar file concerning a current or former employee of the Department of Correction or the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.” Such prohibited files include, but are not limited to, “a record of a security investigation of such employee by the department or an investigation by the department of a discrimination complaint by or against such employee.”

For the purposes of this law, an employee of the Department of Correction includes a member or employee of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission opposed the law, as did various prisoners’ rights organizations, including Prison Legal News.

PLN submitted comments to the legislative Government Administration and Elections Committee, noting that “existing provisions in Connecticut’s FOIA law ... prohibit the release of employees’ personnel and medical files and records that may jeopardize institutional security.”

Further, PLN wrote that the “purported reason for [the law] is that a Connecticut prisoner requested arrest records for Connecticut prison employees.” However, 
“[s]tate agencies and employees who have nothing to hide and who meet the highest standards of professionalism, honesty and integrity should not fear public scrutiny; they should welcome it, whether it comes from within prison walls or without.”

“[A] Democratic government should be more concerned with making public records more accessible to members of the public, thus increasing transparency, rather than restricting access to information about government employees and operations,” PLN observed in its comments to state lawmakers.

“This applies to prisoners as well as to non-incarcerated citizens, as prisoners do not lose their citizenship status when they are imprisoned. Limiting access to public records for prisoners – who have no political voice or constituency and thus cannot easily oppose such legislation – is the start of a slippery slope that threatens to restrict access to public records for non-incarcerated citizens.”

Connecticut joins Washington State, Texas, Wisconsin, Virginia and others in restricting prisoners’ access to otherwise public records.

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