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Idaho agrees to keep court records related to prison medical care secret

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Correction and attorneys representing inmates at the Idaho State Correctional Institution have quietly reached an agreement that could permanently hide from public view records connected to the medical care provided at the prison. The protective order was approved by a federal judge Friday in a 32-year-old lawsuit over substandard care and other problems at ISCI. The order allows the state to designate any record confidential if officials think the designation is needed to protect trade secrets, medical privacy, the security of the prison or if the release would be “unduly detrimental” to the interests of third parties. IDOC attorney Mark Kubinski says the intent is to protect records that would already be protected under Idaho's public records law, not to shield the documents from public view.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.


Idaho agrees to keep some prison records secret
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Correction and attorneys representing inmates at the Idaho State Correctional Institution have quietly reached an agreement that could permanently hide from public view records connected to the medical care provided at the prison.

The protective order was approved by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill on Friday in a 32-year-old lawsuit over substandard care and other civil rights violations at ISCI. The order allows the state or the inmates' attorneys to designate any record confidential if they think it's needed to protect trade secrets, medical privacy, or for security reasons. They may also designate a document as confidential if they think the public release would be “unduly detrimental” to the interests of third parties.

IDOC attorney Mark Kubinski says the intent is to protect records that would already be protected under Idaho's public records law, not to shield the documents from public view.

“It's not the intent of the parties to broaden the public records act, but to regulate that information between the parties themselves,” Kubinski said during a phone interview Friday. “…I understand there's the possibility for you or somebody to read it that way, but that's not how the parties read it.”

The medium-security prison south of Boise is the oldest operating prison in Idaho. In 1981, ISCI inmates brought a class-action lawsuit against the state alleging a variety of problems including poor medical care, violence and overcrowding. The inmates have won many of their claims, but the lawsuit remains in the federal court while the state works to fulfill the requirements of a settlement agreement designed to improve medical and mental health care at the prison. The lawsuit has become known as the Balla case after one of the original plaintiffs, former inmate Walter Balla.

The agreement is tricky because it makes the inmates and their attorneys responsible for overseeing whether the state is complying with the terms — and that means they must have access to information that would otherwise be confidential, including proprietary information from Corizon, the company that provides the medical care at the prison, Kubinski said. To keep the inmates from sharing that confidential information with outside parties or from getting access to information that would allow them to manipulate the medical system or create security risks, both sides agreed to create two levels of secrecy: “Confidential,” which all parties in the case can see but which can't be shared with anyone else, including the general public; and “Attorneys Eyes Only,” which the inmates attorneys' may see but which must not be shown to the prisoners.

The protective order says that many types of information can be designated as confidential, including information deemed competitively or commercially sensitive, financial information, information that implicates the privacy interests of people who aren't part of the lawsuit, and information deemed to be unduly detrimental to the interests of a contractor, employee or a third party.

The protective order also contains a disclaimer, stating that just because something is designated as confidential doesn't mean that the designation is correctly applied.

Idaho's public records law already allows the state to deny access to many types of information including trade secrets and individuals' medical records. But Kubinski acknowledged that the language in the protective order doesn't match the language in the public records act.

“The terminology may not be consistent with the public records act, but I think most of those categories — and I don't want to say this definitively — are encompassed one way or another under the public records act,” Kubinski said. “We're not seeking to withhold information from the opposing party, we're just limiting the disclosure of how broad or narrowly the opposing party can share that disclosure.”

Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke said his goal is to bring the lawsuit to a close and to improve medical care system-wide.

“I take it very, very seriously,” Reinke said. “I want our staff and I to have that level of trust with the public. We take each and every public records request very seriously, and we will on occasion debate it several times before a decision is made. We do believe in transparency whenever possible. We do believe in staff security, and safety, and we try to be as open and honest as we possibly can.”


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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