A prisoner at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton has won an Open Public Records Act case at the New Jersey Appellate Court division level that is also a victory for open government advocates.
Prisoner Kevin Conley sought data generated by the New Jersey Department of Corrections regarding federal funding logs that is subject to disclosure under the Open Public Records Act. The Department of Corrections implemented a new data collection system that no longer generates the reports the prisoner routinely requested. The prisoner filed a complaint with the state’s Government Records Council regarding the denial. The Council ruled for the Department of Corrections, saying that the records custodian bore his burden of proof “that no responsive documents exist.”
The Appellate Court reversed that finding this past week, pointing out that federal and state regulations clearly require the Department of Corrections to maintain and keep the type of information the prisoner requested.
“Indeed, the DOC acknowledges that prior to January 2014, it provided appellant with these reports upon request,” reads the decision. “The only argument the DOC advances for denying appellant access to this ‘government record’ is based on the manner the DOC chose to store or maintain this public information. Acceptance of the DOC’s argument would leave the public policy of transparency and openness the Legislature codified in N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 unacceptably vulnerable to bureaucratic manipulation.” Read more…