The Department of Corrections estimates that it spends at least $750,000 each year responding to Freedom of Information requests from its inmate population, according to a December report by the Office of Legislative Research.
The largest chunk of that spending, about $625,000, is attributed to staff hours spent responding to the requests, the report said. In a typical week, DOC staff members spend about 286 hours searching through records and redacting the social security numbers and home addresses of employees, the agency estimated.
Given that DOC employees have varied salaries, the agency used an average cost of $42 per hour to calculate those expenses. Using those figures, the DOC estimated a weekly personnel cost of $12,012, or $624,624 per year dealing with the requests.
Another $125,000 is spent on FOI appeals, the agency said. By state law, anyone who feels they have been illegally denied access to public information has the right to appeal to the Freedom of Information Commission. It’s a right inmates seem well aware of. The DOC estimates that inmate appeals make up 27 percent of all appeals to the commission.
In the report the DOC said that it had participated in 84 appeals over the past two fiscal years, which each required the time and travel expenses of between three and eight employees.
It also included a table, which broke down the time and costs of 12 appeals the department participated in between 2007 and 2009. Those appeals used 556 staff hours and cost the agency $33,530, it said.
However, the report does not say how the passage of a 2010 law barring prisoners access to the personal information of correctional officers has affected the costs associated with FOI requests. The 12 appeals the agency chose to illustrate the expenses it had incurred where all concerning requests for the personnel files of DOC staff.
But according to DOC spokesman Brian Garnett, the law, which only prohibits inmates from seeking personnel files, hasn’t slowed FOI requests from prisoners it’s only changed the nature of the requests.
“They certainly have not cut down on requests for other things,” Garnett said in a phone interview Friday.
Instead, inmates have submitted FOI requests concerning everything from exactly how many strawberries were used in a specific Native American ceremony to the department’s food procurement records over a ten-year period, he said.
Why? Garnett said it’s probably an effort to annoy DOC personnel.
“It’s fair to say that certainly in our minds it’s an attempt to retaliate against staff or to harass staff members,” he said.
And Mary Schwind, a spokesperson from the FOI Commission, confirmed at least part of his assessment.
“I can’t say that we’ve seen any reduction in the amount of requests,” she said. “The only difference is we now have a specific exemption for requests involving personnel.”
But Schwind said most of the requests didn’t really involve correctional officers anyway.
“Many times they’re looking for information from local police departments regarding their cases,” she said but noted that the commission has dealt with a few cases involving DOC staff.
Either way, Schwind said the DOC probably hasn’t saved any money in handling the requests as a result of the law.