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California bans media interviews with prisoners

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California bans media interviews with prisoners01/15/96 CALIFORNIA--The news media have not been allowed to conduct face- to-face interviews with particular…

California bans media interviews with prisoners

01/15/96

CALIFORNIA–The news media have not been allowed to conduct face- to-face interviews with particular prisoners in the California State prison system for the last two months, the San Francisco Chronicle reported in late December.

The ban on personal interviews arose over state prison officials’ fears that media exposure often serves only to glamorize prisoners and their past criminal exploits, according to the paper.

The restriction began quietly, with no official announcement or policy directive. The ban will remain in effect until the state Youth and Adult Correctional Agency reviews the process by which prison interviews are granted, officials told the Chronicle.

California prison system officials said that they began to consider changes in the system’s interview policies since receiving an increasing number of requests for interviews from so-called “tabloid” news and talk shows. The prison officials say they do not want to restrict access by the media for “legitimate” purposes.

The state prison officials complain that the line between “legitimate” interviews and interviews for the purpose of entertainment has been blurred only in recent years. However, First Amendment advocates have warned that revising the system’s interview policies by distinguishing between “legitimate” news and requests from organizations who report on issues for “entertainment” could allow prison officials to censor unfavorable reports on the system.

Reporters may now speak to prisoners in person only at a public prison event to which the media has been invited, or by being placed on the prisoner’s official visiting list. The media may also contact inmates by phone and mail, which are routinely monitored by prison officials.