How to Get Records or Documents
Do you need to get records or information from the sheriff or from a city or county office?
You have a right to see those records because of the Texas Information Act–the laws about open records or “freedom of information.”
- To ask a jail or county office for records, documents or information, click here for a letter for request of open records.
- Fill in all the required information and mail. Registered mail is best; you don’t need a specific name but address it to the Officer for Public Information or to the Sheriff at the address of the jail.
- The county jail (or another office) is required to respond within 10 days, but it is perfectly legal for them to tell you that they need more time to fulfill your request.
- Don’t ask for any more than you really need–you will simply slow the process or end up with them charging you fees. If they decide to charge you fees for your request, you can request that charges be reduced or totally dropped. Let Texas Jail Project know if the fees seem high or if the jail staff is uncooperative!
- This sample letter is courtesy of the Freedom of Information Foundation–check out their website, which has a tremendous amount of other information about your rights to get information from a state, county, or city agency. Here is another site with information about the Texas Public Information Act, formerly known as the Open Records Act: the Attorney General of Texas.
Tips for Successful Open Records Requests
- Your request must be in writing. Only written requests trigger a governmental body’s obligations under the Public Information Act.
- Your request should be for documents or other information that is already in existence. Governmental bodies are not required to answer questions, perform legal research, or comply with a continuing request to supply information on a periodic basis as such information is prepared in the future.
- We recommend that all requests be sent by U.S. mail and that a copy of the original request and proof of its receipt by the governmental body be kept.
- We recommend that all requests be addressed to the Officer for Public Information or the chief administrative officer of the governmental body. Requests made by facsimile or electronic mail must be addressed to the Officer for Public Information or the chief administrative officer in order to trigger an obligation under the Public Information Act.
- If you believe that a governmental body has not responded as required by the Public Information Act, we recommend that you contact the Open Records Division Hotline at (512) 478-6736 or toll-free (877) 673-6839, your local District Attorney, or local County Attorney. [Or email firstname.lastname@example.org]