York County Prison removes inmate roster from website, state database still accessible

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
York County Prison Monday, June 10, 2019. Bill Kalina photo

The daily inmate roster at York County Prison is no longer posted to the county website because of concerns of potential legal fallout, but visitors to the site can still look up information about inmates via a hyperlink to the state's inmate database.

Concerns about legal liability prompted the county to remove the in-house roster after a jury in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia awarded a $68 million judgment against Bucks County for improperly publishing criminal history information on its website, said Donald Reihart, solicitor for the York County Prison Board.

"My opinion was that we did not violate the act but that some judge somewhere could disagree with my opinion," Reihart said at a June 11 prison board meeting. "So, in an abundance of caution, we took it off."

The York County roster listed the names and inmate numbers for all inmates incarcerated at the county jail and was updated daily by correctional staff, county spokesman Mark Walters confirmed.

York County inmate information is still available by calling the records department at the prison or using the Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification database, or SAVIN, to search for a specific name, but there's no longer an easily accessible online listing.

SAVIN catalogs far more information in its database than what the county listed in its roster, including the name, age, race, date of birth and custody status of all inmates in Pennsylvania.

Reihart said he was unaware that the York County website has a hyperlink to the SAVIN database.

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In the federal jury's ruling, Bucks County was found to have violated the state Criminal History Record Information Act, but the county intends to appeal, according to a report in the Bucks County Courier Times.

Information about the identities and locations of inmates being housed in state prisons and county jails is purely administrative and doesn't fall under CHRIA, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

"That’s an important transparency tool, and I believe that’s all public information," she said of inmate rosters.

But counties across the commonwealth have been removing inmate rosters from their websites in response to the Bucks County ruling, she said.

Removing the information is an overreaction to the case by county governments, Melewsky said, but she added that it's understandable considering the hefty $68 million verdict.

Until there's a judgment in Bucks County's appeal, Reihart said York County would refrain from posting the inmate roster, as a precaution.

"We want to make certain," Reihart said. "The penalty is just too high to risk it."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.