Dallas County to outlaw inmates shredding documents

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on December 21, 2011 at 11:28 PM

DALLAS — Dallas County faces new calls to outlaw a long-time but little-known practice that lets convicts shred sensitive records.

"My first thought is: 'Have you lost your mind?' My second thought is: 'Why haven't you fixed this yet?'" asked  Jay Foley of  ID Theft Info Source.

For more than a decade, Dallas County let parolees and probationers perform community service hours by sorting and shredding sensitive records — including documents like birth certificates, psychiatric exams of children, Social Security cards and even Parkland Memorial Hospital documents — inside a dilapidated warehouse on Harry Hines Boulevard.

County Judge Clay Jenkins suspended the practice immediately this month when News 8 broke the story.

But experts like Foley said Dallas should act faster to make the practice illegal.

"Most of the states actually have laws on the books," Foley said. "I'm surprised Greg Abbott, the attorney general for your state, hasn't already gone in and gotten that on your books."

California outlawed the same thing almost a decade ago, Foley said, after it was discovered that inmates at Folsom State Prison were sorting and shredding consumer data.

Almost 40 other states have followed suit, he added.

But not Texas.

Foley said that leaves citizens here at risk as long as the practice remains legal.

Dallas County Commissioner Maurine Dickey plans to introduce a local ban next month. "We cannot afford to have any kind of incident where someone sues us over this," she said. "We can't let this happen ever again."

County Judge Clay Jenkins said his staff is developing another proposal and insists that convicts will not continue to shred sensitive documents.

"Clearly we are behind the times on some things," Jenkins said.  "It's our job to catch us up."

For now, he has asked a private vendor — not parolees or probationers —   to destroy Dallas County documents until the county catches up with the rest of the country — likely sometime in January.

Both Dickey and Jenkins said they think the issue should be addressed at the state level as well.

E-mail  jwhitely@wfaa.com

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