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HRDC Obtains Settlement, $16,000 in Fees and Costs, Against BOP in FOIA Case

by Scott Grammer

On June 7, 2019, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News, entered into a settlement agreement in a public records case involving the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The settlement stemmed from a May 2018 complaint filed against the BOP under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552.

The complaint detailed how, as part of HRDC’s ongoing public records project, headed by attorney Deb Golden at the time, the organization had filed a FOIA request for information concerning the BOP’s Trust Fund Accounting and Commissary System (TRUFACS); the prison phone system, called TRUFONE; and the Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System (TRU­LINCS) – an electronic messaging system for prisoners. The FOIA request also sought information regarding fees, money transfers and debit cards issued to prisoners upon their release that contained the remaining funds from their trust fund and phone accounts.

The lawsuit described how the BOP responded to HRDC’s FOIA request by releasing just 101 pages of various documents “and a 421-page contract between the government and UNISYS for the inmate telephone system, which included redactions and one missing page. The Bureau of Prisons referred 125 pages to the Department of the Treasury and twelve pages to the Department of Justice’s Justice Management Division for release determinations. The referred documents were ultimately released (with some redactions), and are not the subject of this lawsuit.” 

HRDC explained that after the BOP responded, it “filed an administrative appeal with the Department of Justice Office of Information Policy about these omissions,” but “never received a response to the administrative appeal.” The complaint added, “The Bureau of Prisons wrongly withheld documents responsive to the Human Rights Defense Center’s properly submitted request. The Human Rights Defense Center has a statutory right to all the records it seeks, and there is no basis for the Bureau of Prisons to withhold them.”

The settlement in the case required the BOP to pay $16,000 in attorneys’ fees, expenses and costs. The agency did not admit liability or fault. See: Human Rights Defense Center v. Bureau of Prisons, U.S.D.C. (D. DC), Case No. 1:18-cv-01064-JEB. 

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Related legal case

Human Rights Defense Center v. Bureau of Prisons