Convicted Sex Offender Denied Access to Parole Board’s Supervision Strategies Pursuant to Right-to-Know Law’s Public Safety Exemption

The Commonwealth Court has affirmed a decision by Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (“Board”) to deny a convicted sex offender’s request for access to records which document the strategies the Board will use to supervise him after he is released from prison.  Woods v. Office of Open Records, – – – A.2d – – – – (Pa.Cmwlth.2010) (affirming the final determination of the Office of Open Records).  This decision demonstrates that agencies can use the new Right-to-Know Law (“RTKL”) to protect public safety and victim’s rights.   Although the RTKL grants citizens broad access to public records, Commonwealth agencies can deny access to records “that, if disclosed, would be reasonably likely to jeopardize or threaten public safety or preparedness or public protection activity . . .”.  65 P.S. § 67.708(b)(2).

According to public Montgomery County Court Records, in January of 2003, the sex offender pleaded guilty to a number of charges including the rape of a child less than thirteen years of age.  Anticipating his release from state prison, the sex offender asked the Board to provide him with copies of its policies on sex offender supervision.  The Board provided a copy of the protocols, but redacted sections titled “Supervision Strategies” and “Polygraph”.  The sex offender appealed the redaction of the supervision strategies, stating, “[w]e cannot follow the rules if we do not know the rules.”

The Board provided the Office of Open Records with an affidavit outlining the type of information withheld and explaining why the release of such information would endanger public safety.  Supervision strategies direct the actions of parole agents who perform face to face contacts with offenders, assessments of offender’s homes, and contacts with treatment professionals.   The release of the supervision strategies would reveal the scope of the Board’s sex offender management and policies, and allow offenders to manipulate risk assessment tools and exploit the limitation of the parole agent’s review. Both the Office of Open Records and the Commonwealth Court found that the Board met its burden to prove that the release of the supervision strategies it uses to monitor sex offenders on parole would endanger public safety.

Disclaimer:  This blog is maintained by the members of Nauman Smith’s Media and Right-to-Know Law practice group.  The members of this practice group represent both: 1) media entities, individuals and corporations seeking access to public records, and 2) local municipalities seeking to comply with the law.  THIS BLOG IS NOT MEANT TO BE USED AS LEGAL ADVICE.  The purpose of this blog is to provide educational material for individuals interested in Pennsylvania’s open records law, commonly referred to as the “Right-to-Know Law” or “RTKL”.  The opinions expressed by the individual members of the practice group are solely their own, and do not reflect the opinions of Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall, LLP, or the practice group as a whole.

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