The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located § 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, officials and employees.
A public record is any writing or recording -- regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format -- that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open and may only be withheld if a specific statutory exemption applies.
The purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness of governmental activities. In furtherance of this, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption from access must be interpreted narrowly.
The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is committed to openness and transparency and strictly complies with FOIA. In the interest of open government, DJJ works in a spirit of cooperation with FOIA requesters.
Rights Under Virginia FOIA
Citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia who are not incarcerated and representatives of media with circulation in or broadcasting into Virginia have the following rights under FOIA, subject to certain exemptions:
- The right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
The right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
The right to file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA if it is believed that rights under FOIA have been violated. Alternatively, the Virginia FOIA Council can be contacted for a nonbinding advisory opinion.
Making a Request for Records from DJJ
- While FOIA does not require that you submit a written request, from a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both you and the person receiving your request if you do so. This allows you to create a record of your request, and it gives us a clear statement of what records you are requesting. However, if you choose not to submit your request in writing, we cannot refuse to respond to your request. Additionally, you do not need to state specifically that you are requesting records under FOIA.
- Your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity." This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that you are requesting; instead, it requires that you be specific enough so that we can identify and locate the records that you are seeking.
- Your request must be for existing records or documents. FOIA gives you a right to inspect or receive copies of records; it does not require DJJ to create records that do not already exist, nor does it apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of DJJ.
- You may request to receive electronic records in any format used by DJJ in the regular course of business. For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel database, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via e-mail or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
- Please note that we may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand what records you are seeking or to reach an agreement about timeframes for large requests.
To request records from DJJ, please submit your request via one of the following options:
- By U.S. Mail: Send written requests to Lara Todd, Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, 600 East Main Street, 20th Floor, Richmond, VA 23218-1110.
- By Phone: (804) 588-4414. You may be asked to provide your request in writing.
- By Fax: (804) 371-6497
- By E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Commonly Invoked Exemptions
The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. DJJ commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions:
Personnel information (§ 2.2-3705.1(1) of the Code of Virginia)
Records subject to attorney-client privilege or attorney work product (§§ 2.2-3705.1(2) through 2.2-3705.1(3) of the Code of Virginia)
Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded (§ 2.2-3705.1(12) of the Code of Virginia)
Scholastic records (§ 2.2-3705.4(1) of the Code of Virginia)
Records recorded in or compiled exclusively for use in closed meetings (§ 2.2-3705.1(5) of the Code of Virginia)
Records concerning facility security (§ 2.2-3705.2(14) of the Code of Virginia)
Juvenile records required to be kept confidential under § 16.1-300 of the Code of Virginia
Policy Regarding the Use of Exemptions
The general policy of DJJ is to invoke the above-listed exemptions, when applicable, to protect the privacy of its employees and youth and the confidentiality of certain types of records meriting such protection under FOIA.
If DJJ withholds any requested records, we will notify you in writing and include the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows or requires us to withhold such records.
DJJ’s Responsibilities in Responding to a FOIA Request
The reason for the request for public records is irrelevant and need not be identified before DJJ responds to your request. However, FOIA does allow DJJ to require the requesting individual to provide their name and legal address and to seek clarification on any request.
DJJ must respond to your request within five (5) working days of receiving it. “Day One” is considered the day after your request is received. This five-day period does not include weekends or holidays. FOIA requires that DJJ provide one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period:
We provide you with the records that you have requested in their entirety.
We withhold all of the records that you have requested because all of the records are subject to one or more specific statutory exemptions. If all of the records are being withheld, we must send you a response in writing. Our response must identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows or requires us to withhold the records.
We provide some of the records you have requested but withhold others. We cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, we may redact the portion of the record that we are withholding and must provide you with the remainder of the record. We must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows or requires us to withhold portions of the requested records.
We notify you in writing that it is practically impossible for DJJ to respond to your request within the five-day period, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This allows us seven (7) additional working days to respond to your request.
If you make a request for a very large number of records and we feel that we cannot provide the records to you within the full 12 working days without disrupting DJJ’s other organizational responsibilities, we will contact you to make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement concerning the production of the records. If we are unable to reach an agreement, we may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request.
A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records and shall make all reasonable efforts to supply the requested record at the lowest possible cost. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. Prior to conducting a search for records, the public body shall notify the requester in writing that the public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for requested records and inquire of the requester whether he would like to request a cost estimate in advance of the supplying of the requested records as set forth in subsection F of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia.
DJJ charges 9 cents per page, plus the hourly wages of staff involved with supplying the requested records. You also will be responsible for postage.
If the estimated amount for production of the requested records will exceed $200, DJJ will require a deposit before processing the request. You will be notified in writing of the estimate and offered an opportunity to narrow your request, should you wish to do so. You also have the option of inspecting the existing request without receiving or paying for copies.
Types of Records Maintained by DJJ*
The following is a general description of the types of records held by DJJ:
Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable
Records of contracts into which DJJ has entered
Records of the Board of Juvenile Justice
* This list is intended to serve as a guide and is not an exhaustive list of all records maintained by DJJ.
I am a current or former DJJ employee. Can I get my own records?
If you are a current or former employee, you are entitled to review or receive copies of your own personnel records.