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ACLU Raises Censorship Concerns About D.O.C. Proposal To Restrict Media Interviews With Inmates

Posted: September 07, 2007|Category: Criminal Justice Category: Free Speech

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The R.I. Department of Corrections is holding a public hearing this Monday evening, September 10th on proposed regulations that the R.I. ACLU argues, in submitted testimony, would “allow for a regime of censorship over the news media in their efforts to interview inmates and inform the public.” The proposal under consideration is a significant revision of the DOC’s current rules governing media access.

Among other things, the new proposal would:

  • Delete from current regulations a provision that “any work product prepared (notes, recordings, picture film, and/or videotapes) shall not be subject to review by any Officer or employee of this Department.”
  • Require that a DOC public information officer be present for any “filming and/or interview and remain with the news media throughout the entire visit.”
  • Allow the DOC to deny a media interview if the Department deems it not to be sufficiently “sensitive to the feelings and needs of crime victims.”
  • Bar any interviews with out-of-state inmates. 

In written testimony submitted in advance of the hearing, the ACLU noted that the presence of a DOC employee at all interviews would make it “extremely difficult, if not imposs­ible, for reporters to have candid conversations with inmates on any number of subjects.” The ACLU cited a reporter’s investiga­tion of prison guard brutality or of alleged indifference by administrators to inmates’ medical needs as examples where inmates will likely feel constrained from openly discussing information with reporters. As for using vague criteria such as “sensitivity to crime victims” in determining whether to allow an interview, the testimony asked: “What of an interview with an inmate who claims he or she is innocent of the crime for which he or she is imprisoned? Surely any such story will seem insensitive to the ‘feelings and needs’ of the victim, but that simply should not serve as a basis for denying an interview.” 

The public hearing is at 6:15 PM in the Regan Building, 111 Howard Avenue in Cranston.

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