Lessons: It can be difficult to inspect records as an individual and even more so as an incarcerated one. When making your request, ask if the records can be made available for inspection in the initial request. If computer time is available, a requester could also ask for digital copies and inspect them during their allotted time. Is there a way to help crowdfund requests for incarcerated people held in the DOC?
In this opinion, Indiana’s Public Access Counselor Luke Britt, provides the following opinion: the Indiana Department of Correction should provide the requested records, if practicable, for inspection without assessing a fee to the requester. If not, Norington must pay the copy fee prior to receiving the records in accordance with APRA.
On September 23, 2019, Lakesha L. Norington (“Complainant”) filed a public records request with the DOC requesting the following:
(A) The Food Services enhanced meal dietary menus, master menu, alternative and substitute menus that shows how and with what, on 9-22-19 and prior to and after, meals were to be enhanced and served. (Please also produce photo-graphic enhanced meals to visually show how each meal is to be enhanced)
(B) The Food Services employment contract that was binding on all Food Service personnel of the Miami Correctional Facility on 9-22-19.
Norington asserts that DOC did not respond to the request. On October 11, 2019, Norington followed up with the Miami Correctional Facility’s litigation liaison about the re-quest. In response, the liaison contended that she did not recall receiving the request but encouraged Norington to resend the request to the liaison’s attention. Norington re-submitted the request on November 9, 2019.
The MCF stated that the copy fees would still apply and Norington did not have the fund available to pay for the copies.
On January 29,2020,DOC filed an answer to Norington’s complaint through Angie Heishman. Heishman simply states that Norington is responsible for paying the cost of the requested documents and has insufficient funds to complete this request at this time.
Britt offers some background and a possible way forward.
The Indiana Court of Appeals observed that an individual’s “status as a prisoner greatly frustrates [the] right [to inspect records].” Smith v. State, 873 N.E.2d 197, 201 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007).
In Smith, the court acknowledged that practicality is implicit in the right to inspect and copy public records under APRA. 873 N.E.2d at 201. In concluding the agency did not violate APRA, the court observed that:
…it is simply not practicable for Smith either (1) to be brought to the location of the records so that he can inspect them on location or (2) to have the records brought tohim in the DOC so that he can inspect them while imprisoned.
Granted, DOC does not argue that it is impracticable to bring the requested records to Norington for inspection or vice versa. If that is the case, this office recommends DOC permit inspection of the records without a fee.
On the other hand, if it is not practicable to bring the records to Norington for inspection or vice versa, Norington is obligated to pay for the copy fees prior to receiving the records.