Dallas County slow to outlaw inmates' shredding

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on May 1, 2012 at 10:13 PM

Updated Saturday, May 5 at 9:07 PM

DALLAS — Almost six months after News 8 first revealed that Dallas County let inmates shred documents containing sensitive and personal information, the county has yet to enact any permanent plan prohibiting that activity.

"It takes longer than I would like, coming from the private sector," said Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas County Commissioners Court.

For years, the county quietly let convicts and probationers who were working off community service hours sort through and then shred sensitive papers — including medical records, birth certificates, Social Security cards, jail records, and even juvenile psychiatric exams.

Jenkins issued a temporary ban on the practice last fall after News 8 first reported the issue.

But almost six months later, Jenkins has yet to permanently outlaw the practice, or to even let businesses bid on the shredding inmates once performed.

Jenkins rebuffed a question about whether he was ignoring the issue.

"Not at all," he said. "As soon as this was brought to my attention, I stopped probationers from being able to touch those documents."

Jenkins called back after the interview on Tuesday morning and said the county is now weeks away from taking action.

In June, Jenkins said, Dallas County will ask for bids from companies who want to get paid for the additional work. The winning bidder will be selected in August.

In the meantime, the judge said staffers are preparing a proposal for the court to consider permanently prohibiting inmates from seeing or shredding sensitive documents. That could go before commissioners in weeks.

Still, privacy experts said it is concerning this process has taken so long.

"It shocks me and it concerns me," said Jay Foley with the ID Theft Info Source. "For them to sit six months and not do anything — that is disturbing."

But Judge Jenkins insists staffers have been testing ideas. Privacy advocates are waiting to see when — or if — any are implemented.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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