April 30, 1997
Mr. Norman W. Frey
Bare Hill Correctional Facility
Caller Box 20, Cady Road
Malone, NY 12953
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Mr. Frey:
I have received your letter of April 7. You indicated that a request to view the master index maintained by the Department of Correctional Services was denied. You were informed that you could purchase a copy, but that you could not inspect the record. You added that you recently appealed the denial.
In this regard, reference to a master index appears in a section of the Department's regulations based upon §87(3)(c) of the Freedom of Information Law, which requires that each agency maintain:
"a reasonably detailed current list by subject matter, of all records in the possession of the agency, whether or not available under this article."
The subject matter list is not, in my opinion, required to identify each and every record of an agency; rather I believe that it must refer, by category and in reasonable detail, to the kinds of records maintained by an agency. Further, although a subject matter list is not prepared with respect to records pertaining to a single individual, such a list should be sufficiently detailed to enable an individual to identify a file category of the record or records in which that person may be interested. I direct your attention to the regulations promulgated by the Department of Correctional Services, which in §5.13 state that:
"(a) Every custodian of records under these regulations shall maintain an up-to-date subject matter list, reasonably detailed, of all records in their possession. The records access officer shall maintain a master index, reasonably detailed, of all records maintained by the department. The master index shall include the lists kept by all custodians as well as a list of records maintained at the department's central office.
(b) Each subject matter list and the master index shall be sufficiently detailed to permit identification of the file category of the record sought.
(c) The master index shall be updated not less than twice per year. The most recent update shall appear on the first page of the subject matter list. Each custodian of records and the records access officer shall make available the index kept by him for inspection and copying. Any person desiring a copy of such list may request in writing a copy and upon payment of the appropriate fee, unless waived, a copy of such list shall be mailed or delivered."
Based on the foregoing, it is clear in my view that a master list must be maintained and made available for inspection at each facility.
In an effort to enhance compliance with the Freedom of Information Law and the Department's regulations, copies of this opinion will be forwarded to your facility superintendent and Counsel to the Department.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
Anthony J. Annucci