December 23, 1993
Mr. Donald M. Brewster
Cape Vincent Corr. Facility
Rte. 12E, PO Box 739
Cape Vincent, NY 13618
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to
issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is
based solely upon the facts presented in your correspondence.
Dear Mr. Brewster:
I have received your letter of November 9. You asked whether
you can obtain information concerning the period of your care by
the Division for Youth, as well as information about yourself from
the Department of Correctional Services.
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, §501-c of the Executive Law governs access to and the
confidentiality of records maintained by the Division for Youth
pertaining to youths. That provision states in relevant part that:
"Records or files of youths kept by the
division for youth shall be deemed
confidential and shall be safeguarded from
coming to the knowledge of and from inspection
or examination by any person other than one
authorized to receive such knowledge or to
make such inspection or examination: (i) by
the division pursuant to its regulations; (ii)
or by a judge of the court of claims when such
records are required for the trial of a claim
or other proceeding in such court; or (iii) by
a federal court judge or magistrate, a justice
of the supreme court, a judge of the county
court or family court, or a grand jury. No
person shall divulge the information thus
obtained without authorization to do so by the
division, or by such justice, judge or grand
Having contacted the Division on your behalf, it was suggested
that you submit a request to its records access officer that
includes proof of your identity and as much specificity as possible
as to particular records of your interest. In addition, I was
informed that although some records may be disclosed, a court order
may be needed to obtain others.
Second, with respect to the Department of Correctional
Services, Department regulations indicate that a request for
records kept at a facility may be made to the facility
superintendent or his designee. For records kept at the
Department's central offices in Albany, requests may be made to the
Deputy Commissioner for Administration.
Third, since you asked whether you can obtain "any and all
information" that the Department "may have about you", I point out
that §89(3) of the Freedom of Information Law requires that an
applicant must "reasonably describe" the records sought.
Therefore, a request should include sufficient detail to enable
agency officials to locate and identify requested records. It is
unlikely in my view that a request for "any and all" records about
you would meet the standard of reasonably describing the records.
Lastly, you asked that I inform you as to "which documents
[you are] entitled to specifically". That question cannot be
answered due to the structure of the Freedom of Information Law.
Rather than describing records that must be disclosed, the Law is
based upon a presumption of access. Stated differently, all
records of an agency are available, except to the extent that
records or portions thereof fall within one or more grounds for
denial appearing in §87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law.
Consequently, the specific contents of records and the effects of
their disclosure are often the primary factors in determining the
extent to which records must be disclosed.
Enclosed for your review is a copy of the regulations
promulgated by the Department of Correctional Services concerning
access to its records.
I hope that I have been of some assistance.
Robert J. Freeman