When a state agency blows off a state senator’s request for public documents, something is terribly broken.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, in his capacity as an attorney working with inmates and families, made a public records request Jan. 5 to the state Corrections Department seeking state contracts and agreements regarding a new policy in which a private company photocopies prison mail and delivers copies to inmates.
The policy began this year; it’s intended to curtail the flow of illegal drugs amid an increase in inmate overdoses.
More than eight months later, Candelaria says he’s never received so much as a confirmation of his request under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.
The law states: “If the inspection is not permitted within three business days, the custodian shall explain in writing when the records will be available for inspection or when the public body will respond to the request.” It makes exceptions for such things as trade secrets, tactical response plans and law enforcement records that reveal confidential sources and methods — none of which seemingly apply here.
So, Candelaria, an independent from Albuquerque, filed a lawsuit in state District Court in late July alleging Corrections violated IPRA. His suit focuses on allegations the state failed to turn over public records, not the mail policy, which inmates and families say violates their rights.
Meanwhile, Candelaria’s lawsuit seeks damages of $100 a day — a total that would exceed $21,000 so far. Taxpayers are on the hook if he wins.
Corrections owes Candelaria and the public, who is paying its tab, an explanation and the documents. Its intransigence is inexplicable and potentially expensive to taxpayers.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.