By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director
State lawmakers on Thursday moved to open certain records of the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections in response to news reports about violent incidents at youth corrections facilities.
Last year, journalists at The Gazette were denied access to records regarding fights at the Spring Creek Youth Services Center in Colorado Springs, even though they specifically asked that the identities of juveniles be redacted. The attorney general’s office told the newspaper that state law makes all records of the Division of Youth Corrections (DYC) “privileged and confidential.”
An amended version of HB 15-1131 that unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee would make public some information about critical incidents dating back to Jan. 1 of this year.
“The (existing) statute cast a blanket over any release of information by the Department of Human Services,” which oversees the DYC, said Rep. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat who is sponsoring the bill with Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo. “They couldn’t release any information statutorily and, as a result, it was very difficult for us to peek under the covers and find out what was going on.”
Lee said that he and Esgar worked with the human services department to “thread that delicate needle” between providing information necessary for oversight without violating the rights of juveniles.
The bill would mandate the release of specific information as long as identities are protected and nothing is revealed regarding security procedures or anything else that would “jeopardize the safety of the community, youth or staff.” Among data to be made available: types of critical incidents within a given time frame; trend summaries; responses to critical incidents by facility; and youths involved in multiple incidents.
HB 15-1131 also would let the DYC publicly “correct inaccurate information” pertaining to critical incidents reported in the news media.
“We want to be able to tell an accurate story and be able to answer peoples’ questions as they come,” testified Robert Werthwein, acting DYC director. “We truly value transparency. We don’t have the perfect system, but we strive (for that). We want to have a conversation about how we can get better and having all the parties at the table is the way to do that. This is the first step.”
The House Appropriations Committee is next in the legislative process for the bill, which is sponsored in the Senate by Republican Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs.
Follow the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition on Twitter @CoFOIC. Like CFOIC’s Facebook page. Visit CFOIC’s legislature page to track bills in the General Assembly that could affect the flow or availability of information in Colorado.