How did that inmate walk away? VADOC won’t release records

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(WRIC) — Earlier this month an inmate walked away putting a community on high alert and the Virginia Department Of Corrections isn’t talking. Inmate Jason Day was on the run for two days in Nottoway County.  

8News wanted to know how Day was able to just step away from a worksite and what’s being done to assure the public it doesn’t happen again. But the Department Of Corrections won’t release the records.

8News filed a FOIA or Freedom Of Information Act request for a copy of the incident report. The Department of Corrections told us they have two pages of information still 8News’ request was denied.DOC cited a section of law that allows the state agency to deny “all records of persons imprisoned.” Yet, Megan Rhyne who is a FOIA expert and the Executive Director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government told 8News they don’t have to invoke that.

“Those exemptions are discretionary meaning they don’t have to use them,” said Rhyne. 8News wasn’t asking for Day’s personal records.

8News believes there’s a public interest in knowing how that inmate got away and endangered the community. For more than a year now, we’ve been reporting on critical staffing shortages at our state prisons. Rhyne says, “There’s also a public interest in knowing that the program is secured and that it is adequately staffed.”

She agrees our argument for releasing the records is fair.So, 8News appealed. We argued the public has a right to know and the public needs reassurance it isn’t going to happen again.

“When something does go wrong public records frequently help us understand why they went wrong and what we can do to correct them so they don’t happen again in the future,” Rhyne said.

Once again, our request was denied. 8News also simply asked DOC how many corrections officers were working that day and if there was anything they could share about steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again. DOC failed to respond. 

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