Policy to deny “death row” access suspended pending more comment
ILLINOIS–Adoption of a state policy to prohibit face-to-face interviews with “death row” inmates was temporarily delayed after media groups complained about the new restrictions. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules has extended the comment period to late March to hear additional comment on the proposed policy.
Under the new policy, journalists would have the same rights as the general public to speak to inmates. No special interviews will be set up, and journalists must be on the prisoners’ guest lists, can meet with inmates only during normal visiting hours, and cannot take notes or use cameras or tape recorders.
The department allowed personal interviews with condemned inmates, at the director’s discretion, until December 1993, but stopped because of a deluge of media demands for interviews with serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
Although Illinois law grants the Department of Corrections the authority to deny any interviews with prisoners, some members of the media reportedly filed suits against the department when individual requests were denied. The department decided to deny all personal interviews with death-row inmates to avoid what it considered “frivolous” suits, according to Beth Bennett of the Illinois Press Association.
Although the press association says the current director has chosen not to allow any media access since the lawsuits, he still retains the power to grant access at his discretion. The pending policy would create a complete ban on all personal interviews with condemned prisoners, regardless of the circumstances.
The press association complained that the policy “completely shuts the door on even the possibility of any face-to-face interviews with condemned prisoners in the future,” which it says is a restriction that simply “goes too far.” (Amendments to Administrative Rules, Title 20, Part 103)