Media access.

Position:Survey Summary - State laws regarding media access to prisoners - Statistical Data Included

The August 1978 issue of Corrections Compendium stated, "On June 26, 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its disposition of the District Court appeal of KQED v. Houchins, the media access to inmates case. KQED, a licensed San Francisco Bay area television and radio broadcast company, had been the victor in the lower court battle that centered around press access to inmates in an area jail. Houchins was the sheriff responsible for the facility. Citing Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, and Saxbe v. The Washington Post, 417 U.S. 843, the court concluded that neither the First Amendment nor the 14th Amendment provides a right of access to government information or sources of information within the government's control.... Finally, the court concluded that whether the government should open penal institutions in the manner sought by KQED is a matter for legislative, not judicial, resolution."

The survey on media access in that issue noted that of 49 respondents to the survey, only two -- Montana and New Mexico -- did not allow media access to their facilities. Today, it still appears that the systems encourage media coverage of their events. The policy statements of 28 systems generally stipulate that in order to maintain positive, informative relationships with the public, the media and other agencies, all legitimate news media organizations shall be allowed access to correctional facilities unless security considerations dictate otherwise. Colorado's policy states that the Department of Corrections (DOC) is committed to informing the public and the media of events within the agency's area of responsibility. In Georgia, the public information officer (PIO) takes the initiative to work proactively with the news media, contacting reporters and editors with story ideas that reflect positively upon the department. In Massachusetts, to provide the media with opportunities to become better-educated about correctional institutions and/or issues, the commissioner may schedule planned "media days," during which tours and information sessions are provided. Media access to inmates also is an option in all the reporting systems, with the exception of Arizona, although there are numerous restrictions.

In this survey, to which 45 U.S. and three Canadian correctional systems responded, 100 percent of the systems have some level of written policies -- several quite extensive. When queried, South Dakota and Wyoming were in the process of revising their policies and limited information was available. Seventy-eight percent of the reporting systems also noted having a formal public information office as part of their administrative makeup. The processes governing media access primarily are facilitated by the PIO, the warden of each facility/program, the legislative and community relations office in Arkansas, or by a director of prison enterprises in Louisiana.

Access Prohibitions

Generally, most of the systems require advance notice before honoring media requests for information or interviews -- up to five days in writing in New Mexico. Most of the systems indicated that access would be accommodated during regular administrative business hours, however, provisions often are made for evening and weekend access. Requests deemed too repetitive may be denied and excluded in Tennessee, as are broadcast programs syndicated by independent producers, etc., for the primary purpose of entertainment, e.g., talk shows. Nebraska prohibits live or satellite link or staff-assisted telephone interviews. Freelance writers are considered media in Nevada and may be required to verify their assignments with a letter from the organization they purport to represent. Helicopters are forbidden to fly over facilities at less than 500 feet in Georgia. The obvious prohibitions governing most of the systems is stated by California: "No entry to security housing units, condemned units, the execution chamber, administrative segregation or any area currently affected by an emergency without the approval of the director of corrections or designee."

Access Procedures

Prior notification is mentioned by 10 systems, six in writing. Connecticut specifically considers requests that include the nature and subject matter of the proposed news item, a statement of any perceived benefit to law enforcement agencies, the method of coverage and type of equipment needed, and the names of all those requesting access. Media representatives are escorted throughout the interview process, according to eight systems, and Missouri requires a criminal history check on each media representative before approving clearance. Utah issues its own clearance identification card. Media representatives with recording equipment may tour facilities in Virginia, but only accompanied by the warden/ superintendent or designee, and interaction with inmates or staff is not allowed.

Crisis Procedures

In cases of a crisis incident, nearly all the systems reported that they establish a special media briefing center so media representatives can remain on the premises. In five systems, however, media access is immediately eliminated and the media are escorted from the facility. Media updates are provided at regular intervals primarily by the PIO. In Indiana and Mississippi, a team of PIOs handles the briefing responsibilities. In Georgia, a press conference may be convened at the discretion of the commissioner and/or director of public information and the media are notified by fax and/or telephone as appropriate. Iowa maintains a media notification list for those companies that request to be directly contacted at the initial notice of an incident, and news releases following an incident in Nevada can only be distributed after notification is given to the director, assistant director of operations, the governor's office and the attorney general. An attempt will be made in Rhode Island to provide a pressroom equipped with telephones, and information is not released to the media or the public in Wyoming without prior approval from the director after consulting with the department PIO.

Inmate Interviews

Restrictions apply to interview requests in much the same manner as for general media access to correctional facilities. Interviews are not permitted under any circumstances in Arizona and face-to-face interviews are prohibited in Idaho. A number of factors are considered in approving interviews with inmates: the mental attitude of inmates at the time of requests; if they are in the infirmary; if they are under high-risk security, in administrative detention, punitive segregation, close custody or solitary confinement, or still in the reception area; if the interview is deemed an invasion of inmates' privacy; if a suicide watch is under way for a particular inmate; if an inmate is involved in a pending legal action; if inmates have violated rules and regulations in an attempt to gain media attention (Utah); or if the tension level of the population is high. In Massachusetts, interviews are prohibited if an inmate is under federal jurisdiction or from out of state, and in Missouri, non-general population inmates may be interviewed only in non-contact areas.

Taking photographs during interviews is permitted in 35 of the reporting systems, but only if preapproved in four systems. Photographs are prohibited in four systems, but copying inmate photographs from file photographs is allowed if authorized by the PIO. Twenty-five systems permit audio/visual equipment use, while five systems prohibit it. Consent forms signed by inmates are required in 37 of the systems, but are not required in California in areas in which individual identities cannot be determined.

General Comments

Inmates are prohibited from accepting or soliciting money from the media in 12 systems. California requires that the media pay security and escorting service expenses. Interviews may be terminated in Connecticut if questions could result in an insensitive portrayal of criminal acts, or disturb victims or their families. Inmates may not be employed or act as reporters or publish under a byline in North Dakota, and collect calls between inmates and the media are the only communication method allowed in Idaho, New Hampshire and New York. Telephone interview costs must be borne by inmates or the media within Correctional Service Canada. Finally, interviews must not interfere with program assignments.

The trend to allow and encourage media representatives access to correctional facilities and become informed of their programs seems to be a high priority, as indicated by this survey's reporting systems. The media relations handbook produced by the Washington DOC even begins with the apt quote by Abraham Lincoln: "Public opinion is everything. With it, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who molds public opinion goes deeper than he who enacts statutes and pronounces decisions."

MEDIA ACCESS -- TABLE 1: AUTHORITY AND POLICY FORMAL OFFICE OF WRITTEN PUBLIC SYSTEM POLICY AUTHORITY INFORMATION ALABAMA No response ALASKA Yes Appropriate supervisors Facilitated and the chief executive by the CEO officer (CEO); special of an assistants, deputy com- institution missioners, directors, or office superintendents and re- gional administrators may respond within the individual's area of authority. ARIZONA Yes Public information Yes officer (PIO) and/or liaisons schedule and coordinate media brief- ings divided by specific categories between assistant directors of adminis- trative services, human resources, adult insti- tutions and community corrections. ARKANSAS Yes, for Warden or legislative No news media and community relations visits, office interviews and corres- pondence CALIFORNIA Yes Institution head and Yes assistant director of communications COLORADO Yes Executive director or Yes the director of public affairs CONNECTICUT Yes Delineated in state Yes general statutes; director of communica- tions (internal)...

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