|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
November 21, 2000
Mr. Leonard W. Peck, Jr.
Dear Mr. Peck:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act, chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 141481.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (the "TDCJ") received a request for audiotapes of inmate disciplinary hearings. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.107, and 552.131 of the Government Code.(1) We have considered your argument and the submitted information.
Audiotapes of inmate disciplinary hearings are clearly information "about an inmate." The release of information "about an inmate" in response to requests made under the Public Information Act is controlled by sections 552.029 and 552.131 of the Government Code. Section 552.131 provides in pertinent part:
(a) Except as provided by Subsection (b) or by Section 552.029, information obtained or maintained by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if it is information about an inmate who is confined in a facility operated by or under a contract with the department.
(b) Subsection (a) does not apply to:
(1) statistical or other aggregated information relating to inmates confined in one or more facilities operated by or under a contract with the department; or
(2) information about an inmate sentenced to death.
Section 552.029 of the Government Code, in pertinent part, provides:
Notwithstanding . . . Section 552.131, the following information about an inmate who is confined in a facility operated by or under a contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is subject to required disclosure under Section 552.021:
(1) the inmate's name, identification number, age, birthplace, physical description, or general state of health or the nature of an injury to or critical illness suffered by the inmate;
(2) the inmate's assigned unit or the date on which the unit received the inmate, unless disclosure of the information would violate federal law relating to the confidentiality of substance abuse treatment;
(3) the offense for which the inmate was convicted or the judgment and sentence for that offense;
(4) the county and court in which the inmate was convicted;
(5) the inmate's earliest or latest possible release dates;
(6) the inmate's parole date or earliest possible parole date;
(7) any prior confinement of the inmate by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or its predecessor; or
(8) basic information regarding the death of an inmate in custody, an incident involving the use of force, or an alleged crime involving the inmate.
Section 552.131 is explicitly made subject to section 552.029. We are of the opinion that the submitted audiotapes are not information that is in a category designated in section 552.131(b) or section 552.029. Therefore, the submitted tapes must be withheld under section 552.131(a) of the Government Code. Since this discussion disposes of this request, your arguments under other sections of the Government Code are not addressed.
This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.
This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code § 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. § 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. § 552.321(a).
If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. § 552.3215(e).
If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. § 552.321(a); Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408,411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).
If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.
Michael Jay Burns
Ref: ID# 141181
Encl: Submitted audio tapes
cc: Ms. Joanne Mendez
1. You also request a decision by this office that TDCJ may rely upon as a prior determination pursuant to section 552.301 of the Government Code. We decline to issue such a ruling at this time.
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US