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ACLU Commends Revised Prison Rules That Protect the Public’s Right to Know

Posted: January 28, 2008|Category: Criminal Justice Category: Free Speech

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In an important victory for the public’s right to know, the R.I. Department of Corrections (DOC) has significantly modified regulations governing media access that it had proposed in September.  At the time, the ACLU had argued that the rules would “allow for a regime of censorship over the news media in their efforts to interview inmates and inform the public.” The revised regulations, being filed with the Secretary of State’s office this week, favorably address virtually every concern that the RI ACLU and others had raised in testimony to the DOC.

Among the changes that have been made since a public hearing four months ago:

  • Revision of a proposal that a DOC public information officer be present for any “filming and/or interview and remain with the news media throughout the entire visit.” The new rules now allow reporters the right to demand that the officer leave. 
  • Removal of a provision requiring interviews to be limited to an “approved purpose.”
  • Elimination of a provision allowing the DOC to deny a media interview if the Department deemed it not to be sufficiently “sensitive to the feelings and needs of crime victims.”
  • Reinstatement of language providing that any work product prepared by the media during interviews (such as notes, recordings, or videotapes) will not be subject to review by members of the DOC.

The only controversial provision that was not revised is a ban on interviews with out-of-state inmates. The Department cited an “interstate corrections compact” agreement it has entered into with other states that bars “receiving” states from permitting reporters to interview these inmates. Calling that restriction “totally inappropriate,” RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today that “it improperly holds all state-transferred inmates in Rhode Island incommunicado to the media.” Brown said the ACLU planned to review the basis for this compact provision.

“On the whole, though,” Brown said, “we commend the Department for modifying this proposal in order to address the serious concerns that had been raised about it. The revised regulations will better promote transparency in an agency where openness is particularly crucial. Ultimately, it is the public’s right to know that benefits from these changes.”

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