LOUISIANA–Louisiana prisoners no longer have the right to exchange sealed letters with news reporters, the state’s top prison administrator declared in early June.
Corrections Secretary Richard Stalder removed reporters from the list of people entitled to receive “privileged mail,” reversing a long-standing policy that allowed state prison inmates to put sealed envelopes addressed to “identifiable members of the press” into mail boxes without security officers inspecting the contents.
The policy also prohibited prison staff from opening letters from reporters and editors to inmates without a search warrant. Inmates were required merely to open the letter in the presence of an officer to show it did not contain contraband.
Stalder told AP that he changed the policy because of the difficulty in identifying “bonafide, legitimate” reporters, to promote the control of contraband and to bring the policy in line with an American Correctional Association standard.
He said that the rule change was not prompted by any communications between prisoners and news media that resulted in articles or television broadcasts critical of the department, and he said that he does not think the policy will inhibit inmates from reporting abuses to journalists.
In an editorial on the policy change, The (Baton Rouge) Advocate denounced Stalder’s decision, calling it “censorship” that gives “a strong indication that Louisiana prison officials have things to hide.”
“The ‘standards’ of the American Correctional Association mentioned by Stalder are part of a growing — and disturbing — national trend to limit what the public finds out about what happens behind prison walls,” The Advocate said. “We understand that prison officials would like to censor that information and keep it from the public, but that’s not in the best interest of the state or its taxpayers.”
Stalder said prisoners can still contact members of the news media via telephone. Prison policy, however, mandates that inmates must add the telephone number to a list reviewed by prison authorities before they can call that number.
Prisoners may still have communications in sealed envelopes with courts, attorneys, probation officers, the state Pardon Board, Parole Board, state and local “chief executive officers,” Department of Public Safety and Corrections officials and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.