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    By Brian Matthews
    Song Pick: “Middle of the Road” by The Pretenders

    As a Washington prisoner, sometimes the only way for us to properly exercise our rights to appeal our criminal convictions and sentences are with the use of the State’s Public Records Act (PRA). Whenever we file an appeal, or bring a lawsuit, we have the burden to produce the records which substantiate our claims, or we lose the case. Other times, we may need the records for our central file maintenance, or for our friends and families’ files. The PRA is a valuable tool for everybody to use for a myriad of reasons, and when a State agency like DOC routinely fails to give you the records you ask for it usually prohibits you from accomplishing very important objectives–whatever those objectives may be. That being said, PRA-abusing prisoners are the rare exception, not the norm.

    I think that DOC must stand for “Department Of Can’t-get-right.” cuz this shit seems to be getting ridiculous. By “this shit” I mean how many lawsuits have been successfully mashed down DOC’s buzzard-gullets for violating a prisoner’s civil rights. Sometimes I think they violate MY rights just to see if I’ll eventually give up. Jeesh. It is well-settled law that under the Washington Public Records Act (PRA) a prisoner may personally inspect his central file and his medical file. Sappenfield v. DOC, 127 Wn.App. 83, 110 P.3d 808 (2005); Gronquist v. DOC, 159 Wn.App. 576, 586, 247 P.3d 436 (2011). On 2 June 2017 I submitted a PRA request to inspect the electronic aspect of my central file. DOC responded to my request and misinterpreted that I was seeking copies of my central file. Because I’m used to dealing with DOC’S oxygen-deprived mind-zombies, I clarified in writing that I was only looking at inspecting my central file’s electronic components. DOC acknowledged my clarification, and then subsequently misinterpreted–for the second time–that I was seeking COPIES of my central file. Notwithstanding my very diligent efforts to take DOC’s hand and walk them like an incompetent child across the street, on 8 September 2017 they disclosed that there were 697-pages of records in my central file and requested $115.95 to send me a copy of them.

    For those of you who may not know of Washington’s PRA, DOC is never permitted to charge a fee to inspect public records. RCW 42.50.120(1). DOC conveniently published an administrative rule which states the same thing. WAC 138-08-110(1). And despite my current imprisonment, it is a given that I’m permitted to inspect my own central file in person–DOC even has an administrative code (WAC 137-08-090(1)) AND an internal Policy Statement which says so. DOC 280.510, Directive III(H)(1), (2). So, I sued DOC—again–for wiping their asses with my civil rights–again. During discovery it came out that DOC has been penalized for doing this same thing to other prisoners before. In other words, they knew better than to try to play me close on this, especially when I went so far out of my way to even clarify their mistakes–twice–before they continued to intentionally violate the law and closed my request.

    Part of the problem is that DOC has these disgruntled, under-trained and overworked people in positions where they just don’t seem to care about performing their duties competently. And this instance is not just some random act which slipped through the cracks of the gigantic machinations of DOC. Last year I was forced to sue DOC because, after I discovered inaccurate information in my criminal record and challenged the inaccuracies pursuant to State Law and regulations, EVERY DOC personnel that I submitted my written challenge to refused to fix the error. See Grays Harbor County Superior Court Cause # 16-2-00877-8. And the reasons that DOC’s personnel don’t care about their performance seems to be because DOC fosters such sub-par behavior by refusing to sanction or correct the criminality of their staff–they get sued and bank on the fact that the Attorney General’s office will represent and defend them. And most of the time, they get away with breaking the law because the majority of the prisoners whom attempt to stand up for themselves and file lawsuits barely know how to read and write and end up losing their case only for lack of knowledge on now to proceed in court.

    Washington’s PRA contains a disclaimer which states: “No public agency, public official, public employee, or custodian shall be liable, nor shall a cause of action exist, for any loss or damage based upon the release of a public record if the public agency, public employee, or custodian acted in good faith in attempting to comply with the provisions of this chapter.” RCW 42.56.060. In layman’s terms, this statement says that DOC will never get into trouble for over-disclosing records under the PRA unless they intentionally give up records which they know they are forbidden from giving up. That being said, why does DOC make so many unnecessary redactions and withholdings contrary to the very liberal provisions of the PRA? The law pretty much says give the People whatever they ask for. Why does DOC insist on keeping everyone ignorant and in the dark as to their operations? Whatever is done in the dark will always come out in the light.

    The darkness which pervades many of the actions of DOC’s personnel will be exposed under the scrutiny of the light of my investigatory journalism. I do not give public servants the right to decide what is good for me to know and what is not good for me to know. Until DOC overhauls its public records policy and protocol, they seem to be bent on making the taxpayers of this state liable for their (DOC’s) illegal behavior–on the few occasions they even are held accountable by the courts. My lawsuit can be found at Thurston County Superior Court Cause No. 18-2-01743-34.


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