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Court orders medical surveys of inmates’ health disclosed

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    NMU         PENNSYLVANIA         Freedom of Information         Mar 21, 2001    

Court orders medical surveys of inmates’ health disclosed

  • Individual medical records of inmates are not available for public review, an appeals court ruled, but the Department of Corrections must release a survey of inmates’ health and the policy behind the survey.

The Pennsylvania Court of Appeals ruled March 14 that reports disclosing the number of inmates in the state penal system with Hepatitis C are public records. However, the court also ruled that the individual medical records of inmates were closed under an exception to the state open records law.

Julian Heicklen, representing himself, sued the Department of Corrections to obtain access to department-administered surveys of inmates with Hepatitis C, reports regarding the treatment of these inmates, and the department’s policy for identification and treatment of the condition. Heicklen, a former Penn State University professor and Libertarian Party candidate for state attorney general, had been jailed several times in 1998 and 1999 for publically smoking marijuana in protest of its illegal status.

The court noted that under the Pennsylvania public records law, a record is only public if it contains “some actual agency determination fixing rights or duties” or it “forms the basis for such a determination.” Because the department policy for identification and treatment of Hepatitis C provides guidance to health care professionals and the survey prompted the policy, the court concluded that the policy and the survey are open records under the Pennsylvania open records law.

However, the court refused to release records showing the treatment of individual inmates citing previous case law holding that documents that “would reveal confidential information in the inmate’s medical record” are excepted from the open records law.

Heicklen made repeated requests in April and May 2000 for access to the records. The department denied all of Heicklen’s requests on the grounds that they did not “fix rights or duties and did not reflect the policy of the Department.”

(Heicklen v. Department of Corrections) CC

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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