Sunday, April 12, 1998

Media Are Welcome to Prison

Contrary to what many people have either read or heard somewhere in the media recently, California prisons have not banned media interviews with inmates.

Inmate interviews are permitted. The media knows it, and the media is conducting them. Of the over 200 reporter visits to prisons last year, about 120 of them involved an inmate interview. These included on camera, face to face interviews for television.

These are the facts. There is nothing to restrict the flow of information to the public about the operation of the state’s prison system. There is nothing to prevent communication between the media and inmates. There is nothing to censor the content of inmate communication.

The confusion about media interviews has arisen because the California Department of Corrections no longer allows inmates to make special appointments for interviews. This is a reasonable restriction, and one that is imposed by a number of states. Being able to visit whenever one wants and with whom one wants are among the rights criminal offenders lose when they come to prison.

Inmates have the same access to media that they have to their own families and friends. Inmates can communicate with media through letters, phone calls, and personal visits, as they do with their own families and friends. Inmates are permitted to place collect telephone calls and the conversations may be recorded. It is not necessary for media to notify the California Department of Corrections (CDC) before communicating with an inmate.

It is not Department policy to punish inmates because they contact media or criticize prison programs or operations. Inmates have been disciplined, however, for conspiracy in attempting to circumvent the rules of prison operations, offenses they were aware would bring penalties just as they were aware breaking laws would land them in prison.

In repealing most of the Inmate Bill of Rights in 1994, lawmakers intended that prison inmates have only those rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The change in policy in 1996 to end special arrangements for inmate interviews with the media reflected a change in philosophy by California legislators who voted to roll back California’s Inmate Bill of Rights. Accordingly, after a public hearing, CDC returned to media policies that were in place before the Inmate Bill of Rights was enacted 20 years ago.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the policy in 1974. Justices ruled against both the inmates and the media who claimed their freedom of speech and freedom of press rights were violated.

Television talk and entertainment shows have been effected by the policy change. They want long, on camera interviews with high profile inmates. Here’s how American Journal pitched Charles Manson for an interview "this is a chance for the nation to hear your message! Your Plan! Our program will deliver your message to the nation."

Legislation to require the Department of Corrections to make special arrangements for inmates to be interviewed by the media was rejected by Governor Pete Wilson who wrote in his veto message "the purpose of imprisonment is punishment and deterrence of crime. Those that are housed in state prison should not be treated as celebrities. Just as the Legislature has enacted a ban upon activities which would allow a criminal to profit materially from his crime, so should prison officials prevent media exposure that allows the criminal to enjoy the notoriety at the expense of others."

California policy is designed to provide the public with complete information about how its prisons are being operated. While a handful of reporters continue to fuss about perceived inconveniences, most working journalists simply are going about the business of getting the information they want, interviewing the inmates they want, and writing their stories.

Friday, April 10, 1998


The California Department of Corrections has launched a new toll-free line for victims of crime as part of the Department’s increased emphasis on victims’ rights and services.

Victims seeking help from Corrections can now call the following number free of charge:


Crime victims and their families can request help from the Department with the following activities:

  • Notification when an inmate dies, is released or escapes.
  • Notification of Board of Prison Terms’ hearings
  • Assistance with placing special conditions of parole on inmates about to be released from prison
  • Aid if the victim is being threatened or harassed by an inmate or parolee
  • Assistance with collecting restitution
  • Referrals to appropriate victim service providers and organizations
As part of the Department’s expanded role in crime victims programs, the Office of Victims Services and Restitution has recently been elevated within the organization and placed directly under the Director’s Office.

"This Department’s comprehensive victims’ program is viewed throughout the country as an outstanding example of the role Corrections can play in helping victims of crime," said C.A. Terhune, Director of the California Department of Corrections. "Placing this office directly under my supervision sends a message to crime victims throughout California that we consider victims’ concerns a top priority."

In the ten years since Corrections established its program to help victims of crime, the Department’s Office of Victims Services has helped thousands of crime victims and collected more than $17 million in restitution fines. The restitution fines, which are imposed by a judge at sentencing, are general fines that go to the Board of Control for disbursement to crime victims.

The Department of Corrections will be joining a number of other state agencies in promoting greater awareness of victims rights during the week of April 19-25, which Governor Wilson has declared as Victims’ Rights Week in California. In addition to participating in the 9th Annual Victims March on the Capitol on April 21, Department staff will be conducting educational programs and other special events at prisons throughout the state.


A Marin County Superior Court Judge has delayed the April 14 execution for Horace Edwards Kelly at San Quentin State Prison. An advisory concerning media access to San Quentin will be issued if the execution is rescheduled. The current media witness list will be maintained along with the list of media representatives who have requested and been cleared for access to San Quentin. Media firms have been contacted by telephone with the information on clearances for their staff members.

Thursday, April 9, 1998


The California Department of Corrections has completed processing security clearances for media firms requesting to send representatives to San Quentin State Prison for the April 14 scheduled execution of Horace Edwards Kelly.

Firms have been contacted by telephone with the information on clearances for their staff members.

The following information should be distributed to all media representatives that will be involved as witnesses or participants of the news conference at San Quentin State Prison.

On April 13, 1998, media may enter the West Gate of San Quentin between 1 PM and 5 PM. For security purposes, two forms of identification will be required. One must be an official photo ID such as driver's license, passport, or state-issued identification card. Only those credentialed for the news conference will be permitted. All broadcast vans must enter no later than 3 PM. Any media representative that leaves the prison after 3 PM will not be permitted to return at a later time that day.

Media witnesses to the execution may enter as late as 8 PM through the West Gate of the prison.

Do not wear blue, black, or gray denim clothing or yellow raincoats. It is illegal to bring alcohol, drugs, or weapons into a California State Prison. Vehicles and individuals entering a California State Prison are subject to search.

Private vehicles, except for designated microwave or satellite broadcast trucks, will be parked near the West Gate. After credentials are confirmed, reporters will be transported by prison shuttle to the Media Center.

Pool cameras will cover the media witness news conference.

A video/audio feed for broadcasters is limited to two camera operators and two audio technicians. The broadcast vans facilitating distribution of the feed will be parked closest to the building. Still photos of the news conference will be provided by Associated Press, Riverside Press-Enterprise and San Bernardino Sun pool photographers.

Media movement will be restricted to the Media Center (In-Service Training (IST) building) and broadcast support area. No access will be permitted to the East Gate.

Media witnesses to the execution will be escorted to the IST building immediately after leaving the witness observation area. Media witnesses must agree to make themselves available to members of the pool for interviews after the initial press conference.

Media organizations authorized to send witnesses as representatives of the media pool are Associated Press, San Diego Union-Tribune, Los Angeles Times, KTLA-TV, KTTV-TV, KNX AM, and KFWB AM Los Angeles; San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, KGO-TV, KRON-TV, KGO AM, San Francisco; Riverside Press-Enterprise, San Bernardino Sun, Sacramento Bee, and KCRA-TV Sacramento.

The media pool arrangements are being coordinated by pool organizers, NorCal RTNDA Darryl Compton at (650) 341-9978 and SocCal RTNA Carolyn Fox at (818) 986-8168

The IST building has 60 amp electrical service with a limited number of outlets. There are 7 pay telephones.