By: Brian Matthews (BM65)
Song Pick: “Don’t you want me” by The Human League
I sometimes hear from DOC staff that I’m just a whiney-poo prisoner whom over-criticizes DOC for no reason. For any skeptics that might take issue with my criticism of DOC and other State agencies’ lack of integrity when it comes to accessing public records, perhaps you should become acquainted with “State Integrity Investigation,” conducted by The Center for Public Integrity (CPI). The State Integrity Investigation is reported as a comprehensive assessment of state government accountability and transparency. In 2015, Washington State received an “Fâ€ grade in the category “Public Access to Information” and ranked 32nd nationally for that category. According to the report, Katherine George, a Seattle Attorney and then-member of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, was not surprised by the State’s dismal grade for public disclosure. As she put it, there was a general misperception by state agencies that unreasonable delays in complying with active records requests are permissible if based on staffing constraints. I can personally attest that DOC usually takes 100+ days to process a general public records request; when I challenged their antics in court, DOC claimed staffing constraints in the attempt to justify the callous disregard of their statutory duty to “promptly” make records available upon request.
George is quoted: “Often, agencies could eliminate backlogs if they devoted as much staffing to records disclosures as they do to the public relations[.]” Getting the public records you seek would be faster and easier if state agencies “worried less about over-disclosing, which is protected from liability, and worried more about under-disclosing.” Again, in line with George’s statement, I can personally attest that DOC consistently over-redacts and over-withholds records which, after being challenged at a court hearing, end up being disclosed.
George is concerned that Washington is failing to live up to its commitment to ensuring citizens’ access to government records and data. The Washington State Public Records Act (PRA) was originally enacted by voter Initiative in 1972, and when it became a law there were less than a dozen exemptions for disclosures–meaning there were less than 12 reasons why a government agency could refuse to give a requester public records. Today, there are more than 400 exemptions, and that number seems to jump dramatically every year, meaning our government becomes more and more secret in its day-to-day operations.
I do my best to enforce the PRA whenever an agency refuses to comply with its provisions, but I’m at a tremendous disadvantage of being incarcerated and without adequate means to properly prosecute my cases. Very few of our State agencies seem to care about meeting the obligations imposed under the PRA, and it’s to the detriment of the citizens of our State to be kept ignorant of what our public servants are doing in their posts. The PRA is a very valuable resource, and it is something that I believe more People should utilize and enforce. From our legislative chambers to local counties and cities, the PRA is consistently being violated. When we rank 32nd nationally for public access to records, perhaps I’m not just a bored prisoner criticizing governmental ineptitude because I have nothing better to do. Perhaps there actually is merit to what I write about, and since it is the People’s tax dollars which funds such inept service, perhaps the People should take notice that they’re getting exactly what they pay for–whether they realize it or not. The CPI report can be viewed at:
(c)Copyright 2018 BRIAN MATTHEWS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.