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July 14, 2002
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Kansas High Court Rules Prison Officials Must Make More Prison Records Available to Public

by John Hanna, Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Prison officials must make more parolees' records available to the public, including information on any new crimes they've been charged with since their release, the state's highest court ruled Friday.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court sided with The Wichita Eagle in a three-year legal battle with the Department of Corrections, saying it withheld too much information.

"For us, this has always been a matter of public safety," said Rick Thames, The Eagle's editor. "It's great."

Corrections spokesman Bill Miskell said the department has not decided how to respond to the ruling. "We're in the process right now of reviewing it," he said.

In 1999, the Eagle sought the names of parolees charged with murder or manslaughter from 1996 to 1999, as well as information about the crimes. The newspaper also wanted records that reviewed serious incidents involving parolees.

Prison officials provided some records but refused others, triggering a lawsuit based on the state's Open Record Act of 1984.

The court said the only information the department is allowed to withhold is personal notes and opinions of parole officers. It said information related to criminal charges pending against parolees must be available for public review.

The justices also said government attorneys cannot claim some records are a "work product" in preparation for litigation if "litigation would not reasonably be anticipated under an objective standard."

The agency had argued the newspaper could find much of the information from other sources, including district court records and law enforcement officials.

But the Eagle argued that it would be difficult to obtain the records from local officials, given that Kansas has 105 counties and many cities.

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