Prison system moves to restrict access to death row inmates
TEXAS–The Texas Department of Criminal Justice proposed a new regulation that would drastically limit interviews and visits with prisoners on death row. In addition, the proposed regulation narrowly defines who will qualify as “news media” allowed access to death row inmates.
Although the proposed regulation acknowledges that the news media should have “reasonable access” to death row inmates under the First Amendment, it limits the types of media allowed to obtain that “reasonable access.”
News media allowed access are narrowly defined to include only news publications, accredited news services, licensed radio and television broadcast stations or networks, and cable television systems that originate scheduled news programming. In addition, the proposed regulation further narrows the definition of news media by restricting news publications to those publications that possess a second class mailing permit and are either published at least weekly and contain 25 percent general interest news, or magazines circulating at least 25,000 copies monthly that appeal to a “broad spectrum of interests.”
The proposed regulation makes no secret of its intent to exclude certain media from gaining access to death row inmates. “‘News media’ does not include broadcast programs syndicated by independent producers, or television stations or networks devoted primarily to advocacy purposes or to a particular point of view,” the proposed regulation states.
The Huntsville Public Information Office will schedule all interviews of death row inmates. Those interviews will be conducted weekly at times specified by the agency, according to the proposed regulation.
In addition, the proposed regulation warns that news media should only request interviews with a number of offenders that is “within reason.”
Under the regulation, inmates are limited to just one two-hour non-contact visit per week from friends and relatives, although a “physician, lawyer, and clergyperson” are also allowed access.
The proposed regulation is similar to an internal interview and visitation policy drafted in late June 1998. However, the regulation would now codify that internal departmental policy in the state administrative code. (Proposed regulation for the Texas Administrative Code)