Confidential prisoner records found discarded in dumpster
October 20, 2010
A box of California Men’s Colony (CMC) prisoner files, containing private information such as psychological evaluations and social security numbers, was found in a dumpster at the Shell gas station on Madonna Road near Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo last week.
Government agencies and attorneys working on behalf of inmates are required by privacy laws to properly dispose of protected information. Prison employees shred the documents both horizontally and vertically at CMC before they dispose of records protected by the Privacy Act.
The Privacy Act provides for both civil and criminal penalties that include the leveling of fines and misdemeanor charges.
Last week, a homeless couple was searching for recyclables in a trash bin at the Shell gas station on Madonna Road near Highway 101 when they came across a box of Board of Prison Term files. The files contained the inmates’ past criminal history, psychological evaluations, social security numbers, reports about their behavior in prison and reports regarding their relationships with their families.
Each of the eight files describe an inmate who had been found guilty of murder. Some of the men have been paroled, others had their requests for release denied and one is waiting to have his case heard for the first time later this year.
After discovering the files had been dumped in a trash bin, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation mounted an investigation that determined the files had been given to San Luis Obispo based attorney Peter Ferguson. The local attorney had represented each of the inmate’s attempts to get paroled through the California Board of Prison Terms.
The private attorney said he thought his wife was responsible for putting the documents in the dumpster.
“I think my wife was cleaning out the car and she threw them out,” Ferguson said.
Government codes and the California State Bar require attorneys to protect their client’s privacy and properly dispose of documents.
“It is the duty of an attorney to maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every peril to himself or herself to preserve the secrets, of his or her client,” according to California Business and Professional Code 6068(e).