FOI Advocate Blog

The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit

June 15, 2015 1:55 PM

Advocates for reform of DC Jail reported Thursday (11) on six recommendations about facilities and programs, but they save the seventh to blast the District government for how hard it had been to track down facts about the Jail and the privately-run annex, CTF.

"Public records are difficult to obtain," wrote the authors. "The process for obtaining public records regarding the District's correctional system is complex, time-consuming, occasionally befuddling, and sometimes fruitless."  

The 53-page report, from the D.C. Prisoners Rights Project of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs, was released at a press event at the Covington & Burling law firm that contributed staff for the research. The analysis was overseen by an advisory committee of retired and senior D.C. and federal judges, John Ferren, Rufus King, Ricardo Urbina and Patricia Wald.  Continue>>>


December 18, 2014 12:58 PM

Anyone can use the federal Freedom of Information Act to request records about prisons owned and operated by the government. Information about prisoner demographics, violent incidents, and prison budgets are all obtainable. But privately run facilities—even those that hold federal prisoners—are exempt from the law. Last week, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) introduced legislation to change that. On December 10, she introduced a new bill, the Private Prison Information Act. If passed, it would force any nonfederal prison holding federal prisoners to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.

In 2013, 41,200 federal convicts—19 percent of the entire federal prison population—were housed in private facilities. That year, Corrections Corporation of America, the largest prison contractor in the United States, collected more than $584 million from the federal government.

Passing Lee's bill will be difficult, if not impossible. From 2005 to 2012, Democrats (including Lee) introduced five separate bills that aimed to apply FOIA to private prisons. All of them failed. With the GOP—which has been generally friendly to the prison industry—controlling both houses of Congress beginning next year, the new bill will likely meet a similar end. Continue>>>

December 6, 2013 12:51 PM

From TULSA, Okla — Fifteen months after the Tulsa World requested public records relating to the now-gutted Justice Reinvestment Initiative, Gov. Mary Fallin's office has released more than 8,000 records related to the prison reforms.

The World is reviewing thousands of records to uncover answers as to what happened to the much-heralded package of reforms aimed at curbing prison growth that quickly lost momentum -- and funding -- after the governor signed the law in May 2012. Fallin's spokesman Alex Weintz said the long delay on the open records request was because of the volume of records reviewed by the Governor's Office and confusion by staff members.

Visit for more.



July 15, 2013 1:08 PM

From SFGate:  The Idaho Department of Correction and attorneys representing inmates at the Idaho State Correctional Institution have quietly reached an agreement that could permanently hide from public view records connected to the medical care provided at the prison.

The protective order was approved by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill on Friday in a 32-year-old lawsuit over substandard care and other civil rights violations at ISCI. The order allows the state or the inmates' attorneys to designate any record confidential if they think it's needed to protect trade secrets, medical privacy, or for security reasons. They may also designate a document as confidential if they think the public release would be "unduly detrimental" to the interests of third parties.

Mark Kubinski says the intent is to protect records that would already be protected under Idaho's public records law, not to shield the documents from public view.


June 14, 2013 12:30 PM

A few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.


Private prison firm CCA defends record on transparency in Vt.

MONTPELIER, Vermont — The private company that runs three out-of-state prisons where Vermont inmates are housed is defending its record on transparency. Corrections Corporation of America is responding to a lawsuit filed in Vermont over the issue by saying it complies fully with all applicable state open-records laws.

Visit The Republic for the rest.

UO public records office increases volume, efficiency

A year-end report from University of Oregon's Office of Public Records indicates a larger volume than ever of requests for information about various UO operations but a steadily decreasing amount of time required to fulfill the requests. The UO received 292 public records requests through the first 11 months (through May) of the current fiscal year – four more than in the entire 2012 fiscal year and 92 more than in the 2011 fiscal year. Over that same three-year period, the average amount of time it has taken to fulfill requests has decreased by about five days.

Visit University of Oregon for the rest.

Colorado city wants to ban people taking pictures of public records

Durango, Colo., officials are trying to close what they see as a public-records loophole that is costing them money. The Durango Herald reports that the city is proposing an ordinance that would ban people from photographing public records they request. It seems people are using their cellphones and tablet computers to get around photocopying fees by taking pictures of the documents.

Visit The Salt Lake Tribune for the rest.

Governor Cuomo releases provisional open data guidelines to increase transparency among state agencies

Albany, NY - June 13, 2013 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today released provisional open data guidelines for state agencies and public authorities to participate in, marking another milestone for the State’s data transparency website. With this action, New York is the first state in the nation to publish its provisional open data guidelines and seek public comment on GitHub, an open source platform that allows for open collaboration and sharing. Public comment is open until September 1, 2013.

Visit for the rest.

City of El Paso launches webpage to file open records requests electronically

EL PASO, Texas - The City of El Paso has launched a webpage for open records requests. The Cithy's Communications and Public Affairs Office is responsible for all Open Records Requests. All requests must be made in writing. To submit an Open Records Request through the electronic system, please click on the “Submit Open Records Request” tab on the link at bottom of this article.

Visit KVIA for the rest.

Law signed by governor regarding private university police records

A bill allowing public access to information maintained by campus police affiliated with private and non-profit institutions of higher education in North Carolina became law this week. House Bill 142 was ratified on June 5 and signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Pat McCrory. The new law requires campus police departments at private universities to comply with more public records requests, making arrest records and other investigative records public information. It requires the same kind of access also mandated for municipal, county and state law enforcement.

Visit Times-News for the rest.

California legislature kills $10 fee for search of public court records

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A trailer bill that would have severely limited press and public access to court documents has died in the California Legislature, after widespread editorial condemnation from the state's newspapers. The defeated proposal was put forward by the Administrative Office of the Courts and would have resulted in a charge of $10 per file to look at court records.

Visit Courthouse News Service for the rest.

June 12, 2013 1:31 PM

From Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:  The county must obtain and release the settlement between a nonprofit that provides medical services at the Allegheny County Jail and a former inmate because the county created, funds and shares offices with the organization, the state Office of Open Records ruled Monday in response to an appeal filed by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

A media lawyer praised the outcome but questioned the reasoning, saying the agency should have based its decision on the record requested, rather than who holds it.


June 10, 2013 1:04 PM

From  The Vermont ACLU is suing the nation’s largest private prison company for allegedly ignoring public records requests about Vermont prisoners.

The question at the heart of the lawsuit is whether or not the state’s public records act can be applied to a private corporation that is performing duties for a public agency. Vermont ACLU attorney Dan Barrett says he’s confident it can.


May 9, 2013 9:21 AM

From Courthouse News Service:  AUSTIN (CN) - Prison Legal News sued the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison contractor, for records about its contracts in Texas and lawsuits filed against CCA there.


"Privately operated prisons and jails are notorious for their abhorrent conditions," Prison Legal News says in its complaint. "Although they perform a government function, they are driven by a profit model that cuts costs for the benefit of shareholders and to the detriment of basic services, security, and oversight. Prison Legal News seeks to enforce its rights under the Public Information Act to investigate details about these facilities in Texas."


April 12, 2013 9:32 AM

Access Freedom of InformationA few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.


Editorial: 2013 Legislature: Not worst on open-government issues, but could have done better

If the 2011 Utah State Legislature, which railroaded HB477 through, was regarded as the worst for access to public records, 2013 was a significant improvement. "In the end, it was good for open government," said Linda Petersen, president of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

Visit The Salt Lake Tribune for the rest.

Pink slime data collected by Iowa state must remain behind curtain: Judge

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A judge has blocked Iowa State University from releasing documents about food safety research conducted for the beef-processing company that makes the product dubbed "pink slime" by critics. District Judge Dale Ruigh ruled last month that releasing the records would damage Beef Products, Inc. by revealing information about its proprietary food-processing techniques. Releasing them also would eliminate revenue that Iowa State laboratories receive from companies, who would go elsewhere for testing if they feared results were public records, he said.

Visit The Huffington Post for the rest.

Hospitals criticize Vermont open meetings bill

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Shumlin administration and a Vermont hospital group on Wednesday opposed a bill that would apply the state’s open meetings law to hospitals. Backers like the group Vermont Health Care For All say the state spends nearly $1 billion a year in public money on hospitals, so the public has an interest in their operations and should be able to attend hospital board meetings.

Visit for the rest.

Appeals court: SPD must pay $150,000 in public records case

A state appeals court has unanimously upheld a judge’s award of more than $150,000 to a man who was improperly denied public records by the Seattle Police Department. In a 3 to 0 decision, the court found that King County Superior Court Judge Richard Eadie did not abuse his discretion in granting a penalty of nearly $20,000 and $132,585 in attorney fees sums to Turner Helton, who sought records relating to an excessive-force complaint he brought against officers.

Visit The Seattle Times for the rest.

ACLU of Alaska investigates state’s unconstitutional censoring of Juneau Pro-Life protest

(SitNews) Anchorage, Alaska - The ACLU of Alaska Foundation asked the Governor’s Office and the Alaska Department of Administration this week to share the public records of how, for 45 minutes on Tuesday, April 2, 2013, official vehicles from the Department of Administration blocked a peaceful pro-life protest outside the Capitol in Juneau. ... The ACLU of Alaska asked not only for the “who, what, where, when, and why,” but also for the policies that led the Department of Administration to block these protestors. “We want to know why some state employees thought this was the right thing to do,” said Joshua A. Decker, the ACLU of Alaska attorney who sent today’s request, “and we want to make sure that the State is writing new procedures to make sure this is the last time Alaska blocks free, peaceful speech.”

Visit for the rest.

Government’s transparency debated at FOI symposium

Security needs are among the most commonly cited reasons for governmental secrecy. The federal government classifies massive amounts of information on national security grounds. And, as local government bodies in Connecticut have considered increased security measures following the Newtown school massacre, they have frequently wrestled with what information to make public and what to keep secret. At the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission’s annual conference on Tuesday, held at a banquet hall in Haddam, the main panel discussion focused on the other side of that issue: “Does government transparency enhance our safety and security?” The four panelists — two open government advocates and two government officials — agreed as a general matter that it does.

Visit for the rest.

Editorial: Open government: See it can be done

City meetings in Lake City are, in many ways, an exercise in local government transparency. While we would be eager to say that the citizens of Lake City are the beneficiaries of this kind of openness, the sad part is there are virtually no citizens there to experience it or benefit from it.

Visit Clayton News Daily for the rest.

Audio: Pat Rogers calls reporter a dumb fuck, vows to sue somebody

Readers might recall Rogers was the attorney, lobbyist and Republican National Committeeman who resigned from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and from his law firm last summer after SFR and other media outlets revealed he communicated with top staffers of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez' administration on their private email accounts. The attorney hailed for his commitment to open government had in fact been connecting top Martinez staffers with his corporate clients in the shadows of a private email network—further away from those pesky open records laws that allow citizens to inspect emails of government officials concerning state business.

Visit Sante Fe Reporter for the rest.

Not so public: Hawaii withholds prison death records, get sued

A law firm has paid the Hawaii Department of Public Safety $5,300 for public records, but state officials have yet to produce a single document, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by the ACLU of Hawaii. The records pertain to wrongful death cases of two Hawaii inmates who died while in the custody of Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company that has a lucrative contract to house thousands of the state’s prisoners on the mainland.

Visit Honolulu Civil Beat for the rest.

November 27, 2012 2:04 PM

From The Republic:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Court of Appeals is again taking up a public records case involving a private prison company and a magazine that advocates for inmate rights.

Attorneys for Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America and the magazine Prison Legal News are to make arguments to the court Tuesday. The case began after editor Alex Friedmann in 2007 sought records from the prison operator regarding legal settlements, judgments and complaints against the company.

November 19, 2012 2:06 PM

From Daily Herald:

SALT LAKE CITY -- A state panel upheld a new policy by the Utah Department of Corrections that limits the number of documents it provides free of charge to inmates.

However, prisons must find a way for inmates to review records they can't afford to have copied, the panel said.

The ruling stemmed from an appeal filed by indigent inmate Michael Luesse, who made three record requests in May under the state's Government Records Access and Management Act. He learned more than a month later about the new policy that caps free copies at 100 pages per inmate annually.


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