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Kentucky Department of Corrections accused of subverting Open Records Act by delaying internal investigative reports

04 Jan 2024, Jail News, by

The Kentucky Department of Corrections faces criticism for delaying the release of internal investigative reports, violating the state’s Open Records Act, according to the attorney general.

Kentucky Department of Corrections accused of subverting Open Records Act by delaying internal investigative reports - Inmate Lookup

The Kentucky Department of Corrections has repeatedly asked for “extensive extensions of time” before providing the Lexington Herald-Leader with a year’s worth of internal investigative reports, according to the attorney general’s office, which has violated the state’s Open Records Act.

The attorney general’s office stated that the state’s open records law permits public agencies a reasonable period to prepare records for release promptly. However, agencies undermine this law when they fail to meet their self-imposed deadlines, as observed by the Corrections Department’s inability to produce 900 pages of records within the initially allotted month.

Assistant Attorney General Marc Manley expressed uncertainty regarding the need for over 26 business days to gather and review 900 pages of records. Even if the department took six business days to request responsive records from correctional facilities, Manley noted that meeting the deadline in the next 20 business days by reviewing approximately 45 pages per day or 6 pages per hour was a feasible task. Decisions from the attorney general’s office hold legal weight in open records matters.

The Herald-Leader requested reports from the Corrections Department on Oct. 19, which detail the findings of internal investigations conducted over the past year regarding employees in charge of the state’s prisons and probation and parole system. In recent years, the newspaper has exposed instances of employee misconduct within the Corrections Department’s sister agency, the Department of Juvenile Justice. These instances include improper sexual behavior, neglect of duties, and excessive use of force on youths.

Juvenile Justice Commissioner Vicki Reed resigned last month, and an independent audit of the state’s juvenile detention centers is scheduled for later this month. In response to the Herald-Leader, the Corrections Department initially stated in a letter that it needed until November 30 to locate and redact responsive records, a date unopposed by the newspaper.

However, the Kentucky Department of Corrections extended the release date to December 21 on November 30, and again to January 4 on December 21. The Herald-Leader objected to the initial delay on November 30 and appealed to the attorney general’s office.

In recent years, Kentucky public agencies have increasingly delayed releasing records, hoping that requesters will abandon their pursuit, according to Amye Bensenhaver, co-director of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition.

State lawmakers amended the open records law in 2021 to explicitly state that public agencies are in violation when seeking “extensive extensions of time” to comply.

Amye Bensenhaver emphasized the worrying nature of this behavior, particularly within the Kentucky Department of Corrections, which had previously received criticism from the Kentucky Supreme Court. The court stated that the department should not rely on internal inefficiencies to hinder legitimate open records requests.

Richard Green, executive editor of the Herald-Leader, emphasized that compliance with state law for the timely release of public documents is mandatory. Green underscored the rights granted by state law to taxpayers, residents, and media organizations like the Herald-Leader to access records for a state-determined and reasonable period of time.

Green criticized non-compliance with the law as unacceptable and insulting to taxpayers who fund state agencies with high expectations of performance. The Herald-Leader, as a watchdog for readers and Kentucky taxpayers, plays a crucial role in ensuring state government operates as it should.

Green called on Governor Beshear to heed the attorney general’s ruling, urging intervention for the immediate release of the records.



Image by Angelo Giordano from Pixabay