DOC Roundtable Summary January 2022

In January 2022, GovQA held a roundtable discussion with public records managers in departments of corrections across the United States to learn how they are managing increased complexity of requests, quality control, and other common issues. Recently, GovQA product experts Nicole Soltes and Sue Lewis continued the conversation with public records managers to glean what pain points departments of corrections are feeling.

The discussion covered issues including how department of corrections agencies are handling redaction of documents and video and audio files, identifying unique exemptions, streamlining the increased number of requests, and staying ahead of legislative changes impacting public records.

Managing redaction

Removing personal, private information from documents and audio and video files remains a priority for government agencies of all sizes. A common concern among public records managers is how to most efficiently process redactions. One roundtable participant stated, “We have handled redactions manually through Adobe and other systems. Over the last two years, the volume of large requests has increased dramatically and we need a solution to make life easier.”

Identifying unique exemptions

Many departments of correction find themselves in the unique position of handling recorded inmate telephone records. Though agencies record phone calls of those who are incarcerated, many participants of the roundtable confirmed that those calls are not releasable to the public. One participant said, “We have an exemption for conversations involving incarcerated inmates. We have [the calls] but they are exempt [from release].” Another stated, “We can release lists about who was on the call, how long the call lasted, etc., but withhold release [of the calls].”

Centralizing increased, complex requests

Participants of the roundtable shed light on increased complexity of FOIA requests, a familiar trend seen in public records in recent years. As highlighted in GovQA’s PiPRIndex, request complexity has been on the rise over the last few years and continues to trend upward with the introduction of new file types. As one public records manager mentioned, “We get about 6,200 requests annually and are struggling with request complexity.”

A major goal of the roundtable was to share best practices and one participant shared theirs for processing complex requests: “Particularly complex requests go to a ‘quarterback’ to coordinate with the appropriate parties.” Others shared that they develop workflows for FOIA requests and use audit trails to track communication.

Planning for legislative changes which impact public records

Legislation can introduce unexpected changes to government agencies if they are not properly prepared. For a few roundtable participants, a dedicated public records attorney serves as a liaison between agencies and legislators. One public records manager noted, “We have a dedicated attorney who helps us discuss questions and concerns. Thankfully, the law has been stable.” Another stated, “We also have a dedicated public records attorney. In our state, we would know about anything going before the legislature with potential to change public records before the session starts. That attorney testifies on our behalf about the [proposed] change.”

GovQA regularly hosts roundtables and webinars with partners, associations, customers, and other subject matter experts to create a forum for state and local government agency members to discuss current issues and challenges in public records. Check out our past and upcoming GovQA events to learn more.

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