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PJC Files Brief Arguing Prisoners are Persons Who May Use Public Information Act

 

July 12, 2004: The PJC today filed a brief in the Court of Appeals in a Public Information Act enforcement action on behalf of Richard L. Massey, Jr., a prisoner in state custody. Two years ago, Mr. Massey submitted four Public Information Act requests to the warden of his facility seeking information about prison management, including the contract for the provision of health services at the facility. After the warden failed to respond, Massey filed suit pro se. Both the Circuit Court and the Court of Special Appeals, where Mr. Massey was also pro se, held that, under the Prisoner Litigation Act, Mr. Massey was required to exhaust administrative remedies before he could seek to enforce his right to public information about prison management. We have argued that the Prisoner Litigation Act applies only to prisoner challenges to the conditions of their confinement. A request for information, even prison-related information, cannot be considered a challenge to a prisoner's conditions of confinement, and it is a mistake of logic to equate a dispute about access to public information with a dispute about the subject matter of that information. The Public Information Act confers a wide-ranging right of access to public information upon "all persons," and it secures this right by requiring a swift governmental response and by allowing for immediate judicial review of a denial. We have argued that requiring exhaustion of administrative remedies undermines these fundamental aspects of a statutory scheme designed to ensure governmental transparency and accountability. The case has been set for oral argument during the Court's October sitting.



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