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N.J. Corrections Department locks out journalists

By The Associated Press
06.14.06

NEWARK, N.J. — Journalists will not be allowed to interview inmates in New Jersey state prisons as long as George Hayman is the acting corrections commissioner.

The informal ban has been in effect since Hayman took over in January.

"He determined that we would be best served by cutting off media access to interviews" during a transition that has now stretched to nearly half a year for the Corrections Department, said spokesman Matthew Schuman. Schuman said the ban would be re-evaluated once a permanent commissioner was chosen.

There are security and staffing concerns when reporters are allowed into prisons, Schuman said.

He estimated that five to 10 interview requests per week were denied. Unlike inmates at county jails, state prisoners are not allowed to make collect calls to journalists. Schuman said the only way for inmates and reporters to communicate is through letters.

Also, he said, no reporters have been allowed to tour state prisons for about a year.

John O'Brien, executive director of the New Jersey Press Association, said he would seek to have the ban on jailhouse interviews overturned. "I can't imagine what they hope to accomplish by the institution of this policy," he told The Star-Ledger of Newark for today's editions.

Inmates often use jailhouse interviews to tell their side of the story or to describe prison conditions.

Even before Hayman's ban was in place, New Jersey made it difficult for inmates and reporters to connect. Inmates who were involved in litigation or were in administrative segregation for disciplinary or other reasons were off-limits.

Experts in news-media access to prisoners told the newspaper that New Jersey's rules were perhaps the nation's most restrictive.


Update
N.J. prisons chief drops ban on jailhouse interviews
New policy — announced on same day that news media reported on old one — has acting commissioner reviewing each interview request. 06.15.06

Related

Opponents decry proposed media limits at Massachusetts prisons

Rules would eliminate access to segregated inmates, deny confidential interviews at all correctional facilities and ban cameras, tape recorders at some prisons. 06.17.02

FOI, victims' advocates debate prison interview ban
Death-row inmate's lawsuit has divided those who say prisoners are using reporters for their own ends — and those who say wardens are doing the same. 09.30.02

L.A. sheriff: Actor Robert Blake can do TV interview
In reversing his decision, Lee Baca said he didn't realize that camera crews had access to the jail, its celebrity inmates before he took office. 02.20.03

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