Accessing Records of Parolees’ Addresses
Q: Officials in one of the cities of the Coachella Valley are concerned that a disproportionate number of parolees are being released to live there by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. I requested through the Public Records Act information on all parolees the department has listed as living in the nine cities, the offense for which they went to prison, name, address, etc.
CDCR provided me with the parolees’ names, offense for which they went to prison and are now on parole, and the cities in which they are recorded as living. They would not, however, provide me their addresses, saying that it was their department’s policy not to.
A search of the Public Records Act discloses no exemption for parolee address information. And I would argue that given recidivism rates in the 70-percent range for California prisoners, the public’s right to know what parolees are in their midst and where outweighs any privacy concerns for the parolees themselves, who are still technically prisoners.
Can CDCR legally deny me this information?
A: Under the Public Records Act (“PRA”), records in the possession of state and local government entities are presumed to be public unless one of the PRA’s enumerated exemptions to disclosure applies. See Cal Govt Code Section 6252. A state or local agency may not withhold records just because it is their “policy” to do so.
However, as your inquiry suggests, the CDRC may well be relying on the exemption set forth in Government Code Section 6254(c), which exempts from disclosure “[p]ersonnel, medical, or similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Additionally, the CDRC may claim that the addresses at issue are exempted from disclosure under section 6255 (the “catch-all” exemption), which allows an agency to withhold records if it is found that the public interest in nondisclosure of the records clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure. The CDRC may claim that the privacy rights at issue are such that the public’s interest in disclosure are outweighed by the public’s interest in nondisclosure.
I have not located any court case specifically addressing whether the address information of parolees in particular may be withheld from disclosure under the PRA in accordance with sections 6254(c) and 6255. However, the courts have considered privacy in connection with personal address information in other contexts. In New York Times v. Superior Court of Santa Barbara, 218 Cal. App. 3d 1579 (1990), a newspaper sought the names and addresses of a water district’s customers who had exceeded their water allotment. The water department refused to disclose the names and addresses based on the privacy rights of the consumers. Id. at 1582. The court weighed the privacy rights at issue against the public’s interest in disclosure, and held that the water department was required to provide the names and addresses of customers. Id. at 1585. Observing that the information sought (names and addresses), was “not among the subsections that list exemptions from the general disclosure requirement,” 218 Cal. App 3d at 1586, the court held that customers’ names and addresses were not “personnel, medical, or similar files” under 6254(c). The court went on to hold that the water district had not shown that “the narrow privacy rights invaded are so fundamental that they outweigh the public’s ‘fundamental and necessary right’ to be informed concerning the workings of its government.” In your case, the public’s interest in disclosure or parolee addresses is likely more significant that it was in the New York Times case.
Other courts have come to similar conclusions. For example, in City of L.A. v. Superior Court, 41 Cal. App. 4th 1083, 1091 (1996); see also San Gabriel Tribune v. Superior Court, 143 Cal. App. 3d 762, 777 (1983), the court found that the privacy exemption to the PRA typically does not apply to information such as addresses, and instead “the purpose of the exemption for private records embodied in subdivision (c) of section 6254 is to ‘. . . “protect information of a highly personal nature which is on file with a public agency . . . [to] typically apply to public employee’s personnel folders or sensitive personal information which individuals must submit to government.” The information you seek does not appear to meet the criteria needed to be exempt from disclosure under the PRA.
However, in City of San Jose v. Superior Court, 74 Cal. App. 4th 1008, 1023 (1999), the court held that names and addresses of citizens who had complained about airport noise were exempt from disclosure under Section 6255. The court found that the public interest in disclosure was minimal because the city had made available other information about the complaints, whereas the public interest in nondisclosure was substantial because the court did not want to chill citizens’ from issuing future complaints. Id. In your situation, there would arguably be a much greater public interest in disclosure that in the City of San Jose case.