Inmates could lose ability to profit off record requests



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Posted on March 2, 2011 at 2:34 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 2 at 6:42 PM

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Inmates in Washington state could lose their ability to make money through public record requests, if a bill passes in the state Legislature.

Seventy-five percent of public record request lawsuits come from inmates, according to Attorney General Rob McKenna. He requested the bill to bar inmates from profiting from those cases. That bill was passed in the Senate Wednesday.

The payouts, which can be in the thousands of dollars, have been a financial incentive for inmates to make frivolous public record requests which can result in lawsuits, the Attorney General's Office said.

"That's what's called a slippery slope," said Matthew Silva, who's serving time for bank robbery at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen. He's made more than 100 requests since 2004.

Silva has requested medical records of inmates and currently is waiting for a list of all photocopies made at Stafford Creek in the last year. Due to delays or errors made while processing his requests, Silva has made more than $10,000 in lawsuits that originated as public record requests.

He said the state should not do anything to limit someone's rights when it comes to public record requests.

"If we can't have access to records or information about the government, then we don't have a government of the people, by the people, for the people," said Silva.

"A lot of those requests are designed to cause mischief," Scott Blonien, Washington's Assistant Secretary of Corrections, said.

DOC staff spends hundreds of hours a year processing public records requests from inmates, he added. Penalties are typically paid when clerical errors are made. Blonien said the inmates know that.

The state has paid out more than $1 million in public record request lawsuits. All but one of the suits came from inmates.

"In the one case, it wasn't an offender," said Blonien. "It was an offender's wife."