ACLU Sues Private Citizen to Suppress Public Records Request in Washington State

In April 2021, the ACLU took legal action against a private citizen after she requested public records from the Washington State Department of Corrections on the number of inmates in state custody who identify as transgender and the number of male inmates who are housed in women’s facilities. 

 

The woman, who has asked not to be named, submitted the public records request on March 18, 2021.  The Washington Public Records Act guarantees that citizens have the right to access public records, and requires the government to respond to requests within five days. Only personal student or patient information, employee files, and some investigative records are exempt. 

 

The request asked for:

 

  1. A complete and accurate count of inmates who identify as transgender (gender identity differs from sex identified at birth) in the custody of the Washington Department of Corrections [please break this information down by location].
     

  2. Number of inmates that have been transferred from a men’s facility to a women’s facility since January 01, 2021.
     

  3. Total number of male persons who identify as female, non-binary, or any other gender identity that are currently housed in a women’s facility.
     

  4. Number of inmates who have transferred from a women’s facility to a men’s facility from January 01, 2021 to March 18, 2021.
     

  5. Number of female persons who identify as male, non-binary or any other gender identity that are currently housed in a men’s facility.
     

The Washington Department of Corrections did not respond to her request.  Instead, on April 8, she received email notification that the ACLU of Washington Foundation and Disability Rights Washington, along with their clients “who are current and former transgender, non-binary, and intersex inmates and in the custody of Washington Department of Corrections,” are naming her personally in a lawsuit to prevent the information from being released and to prevent her asking these questions.  Separate lawsuits have also been taken out against Washington Department of Corrections, the News Tribune and KIRO Radio, two media outlets who has also submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for information concerning transgender inmates. 

 

The ACLU has regularly used Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and their state equivalents to access information relevant to the public interest. The ACLU of Washington has specifically advocated for the expansion of the Public Records Act in the past, stating, “Transparency is at the heart of democracy and today’s decision affirms the right of the public to know about the work of the legislators that represent them.”  Indeed, the woman reports that she consulted the ACLU website for guidance when making her FOIA request.  It is troubling that the ACLU is seeking to silence an individual who is petitioning their government, as well as attacking the free press.

 

The woman is being represented by Women’s Liberation Front who are fighting this lawsuit which, which is clearly aimed at suppressing citizen’s rights to access public records.

 

https://www.womensliberationfront.org/news/aclu-sues-private-citizen-to-suppress-public-records-request-in-washington-state

 

How can I help?

 

Write to Washington State Government officials:

 

Governor Jay Inslee

360-902-4111

twitter @GovInslee

email via website: Contacting the Governor | Governor Jay Inslee (wa.gov)

Office of the Governor

PO Box 40002

Olympia, WA 98504-0002

 

Attorney General Bob Ferguson

360-753-6200

twitter: @BobFergusonAG

email via website: Contact Form (wa.gov)

1125 Washington St. SE

Office of the Attorney General

PO Box 40100

Olympia, WA 98504-0100

 

 

State Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig

twitter @andybillig

email via website: Washington State Legislature - Member Email

360-786-7604 // 509-209-2427

307 Legislative Building

PO Box 40403

Olympia, WA 98504

 

State Senate Republic Leader John Braun

email via website: Washington State Legislature - Member Email

360-786-7638

314 Legislative Building

PO Box 40420

Olympia, WA 98504

 

Roster of State House Representatives with names, phone numbers and emails: Washington State Legislature

 

Roster of State Senators with names, phone numbers and emails: Senators (wa.gov)

 

 

Write to Washington State’s Representatives in Congress:

 

Representatives:

Representatives | house.gov

 

Senators:

U.S. Senate: States in the Senate | Washington

 

Sample Letter:

 

I am writing in regard to recent news reports that multiple males have been moved into the Washington Corrections Center for Women. A number of the male individuals housed there have been convicted of extremely violent murders (strangling, stabbing, beating) and at least one is a registered sex offender.

 

You are likely aware of a news report that upon recent transfer of one male to WCCW an incarcerated woman was raped by the new transferee. 

 

Housing men and women in the same prison facilities violates Rule 11 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Also, while the Geneva Convention articles do not apply outside of armed conflict, its principles should guide fair and civilized treatment of prisoners. The articles include providing separate quarters and conveniences (bathrooms, showers) for men and women. Separate accommodations are for the protection of women and girls. Right now, the State of Washington is providing less protection for its incarcerated women and girls than is demanded by UN Standards and the Geneva Convention. This is shameful.

 

Across the country when males have been moved into women's prison facilities there are reports of sexual harassment, assaults and rape. These stories are often not widely reported because the information is difficult to find. Right now, it appears that the State of Washington is working with the ACLU to suppress requests for public information sought under your State's open records law.

 

It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that incarcerated individuals in its care are free from violence and harassment. There is nothing which requires moving males, however they may identify their gender, to the women's prison. Doing so jeopardizes the safety of women and girls and violates their privacy and dignity. 

 

To ensure that all measures are being taken to protect the incarcerated women and girls in the care of the State, information must be available to the public.

 

I ask that you:

 

1. take steps to halt the transfer of any more males to WCCW

2. seek a review of the determinations to transfer the males who are currently housed in WCCW

3. insist the State of Washington adhere to its own Public Records Act (42.56 RCW)

 

Below are citations to news reports describing the above.

 

Thank you.

 

DOC employee reports men are claiming to be women to transfer prisons (mynorthwest.com)


ACLU blocks woman's request for data on numbers of transgender inmates in women's prisons | The Post Millennial