Legislation takes mugshots off jail websites

Posted at 4:45 PM, Mar 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-03-06 20:30:01-05

SALT LAKE CITY - Legislators are considering a bill that would change the way Utah law enforcement agencies give out mugshots of criminal suspects.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder has already changed the way his jail gives out mugshots, and now he's hoping to make his internal policy a state law.

The change comes after private companies began putting mugshots on websites and in local papers. Those websites and papers obtain booking photos in large quantities, a process known as scraping.

"When people call and say, 'We want 700 mugshots and we don't know any names, just give us this run date,'" Winder said.

Winder says that in our society, a mugshot equates to criminal, but an arrest doesn't necessarily mean you've been convicted of a crime. For those who wind up on the sites, that perception could be devastating to their personal or professional lives.

"The criminal justice is predicated on the fact that even if you made a mistake at sometime in your life you shouldn't have to bear that burden forever, that's why we call it the Department of Corrections not the Department of Punishment," Winder said.

If a person wants to get a mug taken off the site, he's forced to pay the company a lot of money. Winder says that's extortion and he hopes the change will make it harder for those websites to operate.

"It's about extracting 500 to 1,000 dollars out of our good citizens, to try and get their mugshot taken down off of a public website," Winder said.

Winder decided he didn't want to be part of the process, so in January, he instituted a new policy at his jail where mugshots didn't show up on the jail websites and therefore couldn't be easily scraped.

Now he and Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, are introducing House Bill 408, which would make Winder's policy Utah law.

"So this bill will make that illegal, so they can't scam people to get their mugshots out of the magazines or off the online publications," Winder said.

Winder says restricting access to jail mugshots will not infringe on anyone's civil rights.

HB 408 hasn't been assigned to a committee, but Ray seems confident he'll be able to move it along through the legislative process.