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Appellate court rules FOIL lets inmate view guards' history

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Appellate court rules FOIL lets inmate view guards’ history

  • An appellate division panel ruled in late October that an inmate’s request for prison guards’ background information must be granted under New York’s Freedom of Information Law.

Nov. 5, 2003 — A five-judge appeals panel in Albany on Oct. 23 overturned a trial court’s denial to an inmate of background information regarding Department of Correctional Services officers. Abdul Beyah, who is serving a four-year prison sentence for attempted robbery and promoting prison contraband in Southport state prison, can see information about the guards alleged to have assaulted him at the Auburn state prison.

“It was a favorable decision, and really an excellent decision by the court with regard to affirming the strength of the FOIA law,” James Snyder, Beyah’s attorney, said. Snyder also noted that the appeals division’s decision made more clear a “muddy area” of New York case law involving the use of the open records law to obtain correctional officer information.

In September 1999, after a beating, Beyah filed for an investigation with the state’s Prisoners Legal Services. The Department of Correctional Services denied the legal services group information about the officers allegedly involved.

Beyah filed a lawsuit for the information under New York’s Freedom of Information Law but Albany County Supreme Court Judge John G. Connor upheld the department’s denial. Connor held that the guards’ information was protected under the state’s privacy laws and was therefore exempt from FOIL. In New York, a Supreme Court is the county trial-level court.

Bayeh appealed to the Albany branch of the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division which ruled that the Department of Correctional Services “failed to demonstrate its burden” of showing the requested information to be exempt from FOIL.

State prisons spokesman James Flateau said that the decision is counter to many existing laws that govern the actions of prisoners.

Correctional Services Commissioner [Glenn] Goord “believes the law should restrict inmate access to information on prison employees,” Flateau told The Associated Press in an Oct. 23 story. Moreover, said Flateau, current state law already limits inmates’ rights, prohibiting them from telephoning or writing anyone they want, and barring their possession of information on other inmates that is available to the public.

(Abdul Beyah v. Glenn Good; Counsel: James Snyder, Green & Reid, Albany) AS

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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