Location:
CORRECTIONS, CT DEPT OF; FREEDOM OF INFORMATION; PRISONS AND PRISONERS - STATISTICS;
Scope:
Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report


December 23, 2010

 

2010-R-0486

COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH INMATE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUESTS

By: Terrance Adams, Legislative Analyst II

You asked for the costs incurred by the Department of Correction (DOC) from inmate Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and the amount attributable to appeals to the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC).

SUMMARY

According to DOC estimates, inmate FOI requests cost the agency at least $750,000 per year and likely significantly more. Expenses associated with FOI requests include (1) staff time spent responding to the requests (estimated to be approximately $625,000 per year); (2) paper (for which an estimated cost was not available but could be substantial); and (3) appeals to FOIC (estimated to be $125,000 per year). The department noted that its figures do not include the costs incurred by other agencies that receive FOI requests from inmates.

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), most government agency records are considered public and must be disclosed to anyone requesting access to, or copies of, them. With certain exceptions, a “public record” is any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the public's business prepared, owned, used, received, or retained by a public agency, whether the data or information is handwritten, typed, tape-recorded, printed, photostated, photographed, or recorded by any other method (CGS 1-200(5) and 1-210).

STAFF TIME

DOC's Freedom of Information Office administrator contacted the FOI liaison (or appropriate staff person) in each of the department's 18 facilities. Based on their responses, the department identified more than 30 people who handle inmate FOI requests in a typical week and estimated that they spend a total of 286 hours per week on these requests (see Table 1). This includes time spent both searching for records as well as redacting certain information from them, such as Social Security numbers and department employees' residential addresses.

Because the staff who handle FOI requests have varying salaries, the department used their average wage of $42 per hour to estimate the cost of the staff time. It noted that gathering and redacting documents cannot be performed by support staff; the tasks are typically handled by a counselor supervisor, captain, or deputy warden. With an average wage of $42 per hour, DOC calculated a weekly personnel cost of $12,012 for inmate FOI requests, or $624,624 per year.

Table 1 shows the amount of time staff in various facilities, and sometimes specific units, spend on FOI requests. Each line represents time spent by an individual staff member.

Table 1: Hours spent per Week on Inmate FOI Requests

Facility

Average Number of Hours per Week

Bridgeport Correctional Center

1

Brooklyn Correctional Institution

2

Central Office- Administration

2

Central Office- Fiscal Services

4

Central Office- FOI Administrator

36

Central Office- Human Resources

3

Central Office- Legal Affairs

4

Central Office- Religious Services

4

Central Office- Security

2

Central Office- Security

1

Central Office- Volunteer Services

4

Central Records Warehouse

5

Cheshire Correctional Institution

10

Corrigan/Radgowski Correctional Center

16

Corrigan/Radgowski Correctional Center

4

Enfield Correctional Institution

1.25

Engineering

0.5

Food Services- York Correctional Institution

40

Food Services- York Correctional Institution

40

Garner Correctional Institution

16

Gates Correctional Institution

2

Hartford Correctional Center

0.67

MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution

15

Manson Youth Institution

2

New Haven Correctional Center

8

Northern Correctional Institution

36

Offender Classification and Population Management

0.5

Osborn Correctional Institution

16

South District

4

Willard- Cybulski Correctional Institution

4

York Correctional Institution

0.33

Other staff handling FOI requests

1.75

Total

286

Source: DOC

PAPER

DOC could not easily estimate the paper-related costs associated with inmates' FOI requests but stated that these costs may be substantial. One reason is that requests may produce a large volume of documents, some totaling thousands of pages. In one such request, pertaining to lost property claims, the department identified 250 records that met the requestor's criteria. The records averaged 50 pages a piece for a total of 12,500 pages. The department estimated that the staff time spent locating, copying, and redacting the records totaled 100 hours. Another request, for food service purchases, produced 7,000 responsive documents.

Additionally, the need to redact certain information doubles the number of copies the department must produce. It photocopies the original documents, redacts certain information from the copies, and then photocopies the redacted version to provide to the inmate.

DOC also incurs additional costs when it provides documents to indigent inmates. FOIA allows state agencies to charge up to 25 cents per page for photocopying, but they must waive the fee if the requestor is indigent (CGS 1-212(d)(1)). For example, the request that produced 12,500 pages forced the department to absorb $3,125 in copying charges because the requestor was indigent. The frequency of such high-volume requests is unclear, but the department reports that they are typically filed by indigent inmates.

APPEALS TO FOIC

Any person who feels he or she was wrongfully denied access to a public record may appeal to FOIC (CGS 1-206). For the past two fiscal years, DOC estimated that it has spent a total of $250,000 preparing for and attending FOIC hearings. These include the personnel costs of staff members who prepare for or participate in the appeal, including travel time.

DOC reported that it participated in a total of 84 inmate appeals in the past two fiscal years and that such appeals could include between three and eight staff members: a staff attorney, the department's FOI administrator, and one or more witnesses. According to DOC, inmate appeals comprise 27% of all FOIC appeals.

To illustrate the hours and costs associated with FOIC hearings, the department provided us with a list of 12 hearings that it participated in from May 2007 through May 2009 (see Table 2). The hearings concerned inmate requests for DOC staff members' personnel files. (These files are now off-limits to inmates with the passage of PA 10-58.) Together, the 12 hearings used 556 hours of staff time and cost $33,530.

Table 2: Hours and Personnel Costs of Selected FOIC Appeals

FOIC Docket Number

Hearing Date

Total Hours

Overall Personnel Costs

2006-502

5/4/07

76

$5,107

2006-537

5/7/07

34

2,553

2007-069

9/11/07

10/19/07

58

4,064

2008-029

5/21/08

8/21/08

9/29/08

11/21/08

163

7,864

2008-240

2008-382

9/5/08

67

4,042

2008-600

2/10/09

45

2,804

2008-471

4/2/09

60

3,861

2009-090

5/19/09

53

3,235

Total

 

556

$33,530

Source: DOC

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