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Prison system backs down on death-row interview ban

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Prison system backs down on death-row interview ban07/29/96 ILLINOIS--In mid-June, the Illinois Department of Corrections decided not to ban face-to-face…

Prison system backs down on death-row interview ban

07/29/96

ILLINOIS–In mid-June, the Illinois Department of Corrections decided not to ban face-to-face interviews with death row inmates after media and civil rights activists voiced concern over the restrictions and met with the agency in mid-May.

The Department did, however, tighten restrictions on interviews with non-death row inmates by limiting journalists’ access rights to those of the general public. Journalists must be listed on the inmate’s visitors list and approved by the Chief Administrator Officer, who may limit the frequency and duration of visits.

A ban on all interviews with death-row inmates was proposed in February as a way to keep high-profile killers from gaining additional media coverage, the department explained. The new legislation would have removed the director’s authority to grant permission to interview death-row inmates.

After initial protests from media groups, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules extended the comment period on the regulations to mid-April and scheduled a hearing in May. Many groups, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed comments arguing that Illinois’s restrictions were too severe.

Journalists who testified to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules also said that the ban went too far and proposed other options, such as a deadline for conducting interviews before an execution and an agreement allowing a group of reporters to interview an inmate together, according to Illinois Press Association Affairs Manager Beth Bennett.

The meeting also included representatives from the Chicago Headline Club and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The corrections department issued its final version of the regulation granting authority to approve interviews to the director in mid-June. The director is instructed to base his decisions on “the effect that an interview may have on the individual or other committed persons, and the effect upon safety, security, institutional order, or other penological concerns.” (Amendments to Administrative Rules, Title 20, Part 103)