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Proposed regulations restrict media access to prisons

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    NMU         MICHIGAN         Press at Home & Abroad         Dec 20, 1999    

Proposed regulations restrict media access to prisons

  • Face-to-face interviews with prisoners are virtually impossible under proposed regulations, which are currently in effect despite their proposal status, and the use of recording devices in prisons is forbidden.

The Michigan Department of Corrections is following new proposed rules restricting media interviews with inmates even though the rules have not been officially adopted, according to Associated Press reports.

Corrections spokesman Matt Davis told the AP that the department is requiring reporters to follow the proposed rules even though they are still being discussed within the department. The Michigan Department of Corrections in November heard arguments from media representatives and state officials regarding the proposals.

Under the regulations, media access to Michigan prisoners is severely limited — journalists are granted no greater access than the general public. Journalists are not permitted to bring any recording device, audio or visual, into a jailhouse interview. Reporters may still interview prisoners by telephone, but person-to-person interviews are restricted.

Interviews with the news media are limited by the rules of access applicable to the general public. Among these rules is the requirement that to have access to a particular prisoner, a person must be on that prisoner’s approved visitor list. This list of visitors can only be modified every six months, according to Lisa Mikalonis of the Michigan Press Association.

According to Mikalonis, one-time interviews present problems because it is unlikely that the journalist will be on the prisoner’s approved list. Additionally, she notes that the biggest change, if the proposed regulations remain effective, is the restriction on cameras, which could seriously affect television coverage.

Prison officials insist that the changes are necessary to ensure the safety of the staff and state inmates.

“Some editorial people would define this as narrowing access; we would argue that it is opening up the process,” said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Matt Davis. According to Davis, the proposed changes cannot be attributed to a single event. However, the department did deviate from its policies to accommodate media requests to interview Jack Kevorkian, who was convicted of helping a terminally ill woman commit suicide.

(Media counsel: Dawn Phillips Hertz, Troy)


© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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