Do I have a right to get government records in New Jersey?
Yes. The law that gives you this right is called the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), found in the New Jersey statutes (also called “green books”) at N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to N.J.S.A. 47:1A-13.
Can I ask for electronic government records?
Yes, OPRA covers printed and electronic records, including email.
Do I have a right to get records from all New Jersey government agencies?
Yes, from any part of the state or local government, including town offices or the local police.
Does this law apply to the courts?
No, OPRA does not cover court records. If you want to request court records, try to request them from the courthouse or municipal court where the case was originally heard.
Does this law apply to federal agencies?
No. You have a right to get records from federal agencies but you must use a law called the “Freedom of Information Act” (FOIA).
Are all government records available to the public?
No. OPRA says that certain government records are exempt (not available to the public). One such example would be a record containing personal information like a Social Security number, which would violate another person’s right to privacy. Another example would be the records of an ongoing civil or criminal investigation.
Who should I contact if I want government records?
Every government agency has a “records custodian” who maintains agency records.
How can I get access to government records?
You must make a written request to the records custodian, specifically stating that it is an “OPRA” request. You do not have to state your name but you must include contact information (postal address, phone number, email address). Tell the custodian the records you are requesting and what format you would like them in.
Some agencies allow electronic OPRA requests. Use OPRA Central for state agencies.
Do I have to give a reason for asking for the government records?
No, you don’t have to explain.
What are some do’s and don’ts when I make my request?
If the records custodian does not understand your request, you may be turned down. You could also be turned down if you ask the custodian to do research, to answer a question, or to provide “any and all” documents. The lesson is, ask for what you really want and give as much information (dates, subjects) as possible.
What happens after I make my request?
The records custodian will look for the government records you requested and will decide if you should receive them. Under OPRA, the records custodian must start with the idea that you should receive the records, not that they should be kept from you.
How much does it cost to get copies of government records?
You will be charged 5 cents per page for letter size paper and 7 cents per page for legal size paper. If the records are available in electronic form, you will receive the records without any fee.
How long does it take to get copies of government records?
The records custodian must reply to your request within seven business days, but this reply can be a request for more time.
What types of responses can I expect?
The government official must reply to your request in writing. You may receive all of the records you requested, you may be told that some or all of the records are exempt, or you may receive records that are redacted (certain information is crossed out so you can’t read it).
What can I do if my request is turned down?
You have two options if your request is turned down. You can choose one of the options but not both.
What are some helpful resources?
You can find more information on OPRA at the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government website, or at the Government Records Council website.
This information last reviewed: Feb 6, 2023