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Calif. prison officials propose easing rules on press access

By The Associated Press
08.15.07

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Reporters will be able to use pens, pencils and notebooks while interviewing state prison inmates even as cameras and tape recorders remain off-limits, under revised media regulations issued by corrections officials.

Reporters also will not be allowed to interview specific inmates unless they go through the lengthy process of getting on the prisoner's visiting list and then show up during the limited visitors' hours.

Even so, the proposed rules represent at least a partial victory for California news outlets, which for years have sought greater access to inmates and the ability for reporters to use their most basic tools. Several bills seeking to provide that passed the Legislature in recent years but have not made it into law.

The rules were proposed Aug. 3 by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and set to be the subject of a Sept. 25 public hearing. Barring major revisions, they are to become law in early November, department spokesman Seth Unger said.

The revisions are the first formal changes to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation media policy that was adopted in 1995 under former Gov. Pete Wilson.

Governors since then have vetoed bills designed to permit easier access to the state's prison system. In vetoing the latest attempt last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said allowing reporters to interview specific inmates could "glamorize murderers" and "traumatize crime victims and their families."

Reporters and camera crews generally have ready access to state prisons and can interview inmates they meet at random during general tours. But the department's rules prohibit reporters from taping or photographing interviews with specific inmates, such as Charles Manson.

The proposed regulations also require the department to respond within two days to media requests for a general prison tour and prohibit officials from retaliating against inmates who talk to reporters.

"The goal of these regulations is to provide for the most transparency possible," Unger said. "There definitely is a perception that our prisons are closed to the media, when every day of the year we have reporters and cameras going through our prisons."


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