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FOI Committee
This committee is the watchdog of press freedoms across the nation. It relies upon a network of volunteers in each state organized under Project Sunshine. These SPJ members are on the front lines for assaults to the First Amendment and when lawmakers attempt to restrict the public's access to documents and the government's business. The committee often is called upon to intervene in instances where the media is restricted.

Home > Freedom of Information > Covering Prisons

Freedom of Information
Prison Access Policies

Compiled by Jessica Pupovac, freelance reporter

Restrictive prison policies continue to be an issue — and a problem — for journalists. SPJ is working to keep prisons accessible and has developed this online resource of state access policies relating to the media.


Behind the wall: Tips on prison reporting

America's prisons are packed with important stories — stories of crime and punishment and other policy decisions that are rich with human drama and real-world consequences.

But correctional institutions lie outside public view by their very nature and, too often, are kept from the watchful eye of media outlets by restrictive policies and practices. Read the complete article [Quill, July/August 2012]

Jump to:

Collected Resources
Downloadable State-by-State Access Policies
State-by-State Contact Information

Additional Information
General
Transparency in process
Inmate interviews
Staff Interviews
Online Presence


Collected Resources

Downloadable State-by-State Access Policies [PDF format]

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State-by-State Contact Information

Alabama Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Brian Corbett, Public Information Manager
Phone: 334-353-4053
Email

Of note: Current administration rarely, if ever, allows media professionals inside facilities upon request. However, PIO Brian Corbett is very responsive to information requests.


Alaska Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Richard Schmitz, PIO
Phone: 907-465-4640, Cell: 907-209-5245
Email

Of note: Ask about the department's upcoming "media institutes," which are organized by Schmitz, a former reporter.


Arizona Department of Corrections
Website
Email
Phone: 602-542-3133

Of note: One of the more restrictive policies, in which employees are required to notify the PIO of any publicly available, online information that they might direct a member of the press towards.


Arkansas Department of Corrections
adc.arkansas.gov
Phone: 870-267-6180


California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Contact: Website
Phone: 916-445-4950

Best excerpt from media access policy: "Correctional facilities and programs are operated at public expense for the protection of society. The public has a right and a duty to know how such facilities and programs are being conducted."

Of note: "Inmates may not participate in specific-person face-to-face interviews." Media may, however, ask to interview a specific type of inmate, such as female drug offender over the age of 65.


Colorado Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Katherine Sanguinetti
Phone: 719-226-4773

Best excerpt from media access policy: "All designated DOC employees or contract workers shall strive to maintain integrity and credibility with the media through prompt, well-researched, and accurate responses to media requests for information."

Of note: Only one in-person interview for a reporter each year, not to exceed 3 hours. Subsequent must be done through letters.

The policy also includes the only provision for "whistle blower" statutes: "DOC employees, contract workers, or volunteers with specific information they wish to make public through the media shall coordinate with the Office of Public Relations. The only exception would be the release of information pursuant to federal and state “whistle blower” statutes."


Connecticut Department of Corrections
Website
Phone: 860-692-7780
Email

Best excerpt from media access policy: "News media representatives shall be encouraged to inquire about activities within the Department of Correction, to visit correctional facilities and to report on programs and activities."

Of note: Connecticut's policy includes guidelines for evaluating media request, including that the request "shall be based upon a legitimate penological interest." What about the public interest?


Delaware Department of Corrections
Website
Phone: 302-857-5232


District of Columbia Department of Corrections
General number: 202-673-7316


Florida Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Ann Howard
Phone: 850-488-0420
Email


Georgia Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Joan Heath
Phone: 478-992-5246

Of note: Georgia's policy only covers interviews, not general access.


Hawai'i department of Public Safety - Corrections Division
Website
Deputy Directors for Administration, Corrections & Law Enforcement
Phone: 808-587-1288
Email

Of note: Policy not on site and when contacted, told that it "might not be public." Left a message and never heard back.


Idaho Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Jeff Ray
Email: jeray@idoc.idaho.gov, inquire@idoc.idaho.gov
For FOIA: publicrecord@idoc.idaho.gov
Phone: 208-658-2000

Of note: Idaho doesn't arrange face-to-face interviews, but will pass along request to inmate with phone number, reason for interview request and permission to call (collect). Tours also arranged upon request, according to policy.


Illinois Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Sharyn Elman
Phone: 217-558-2200


Indiana Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Amy Lanum
Phone: 317-234-1693
Email


Iowa Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Fred Scaletta
Phone: 515-725-5707
Email


Kansas Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Jan Lunsford
Phone: 785-291-3052 (office), 785-248-1594 (mobile)
Email

Of note: Media not allowed to ask to interview specific inmates, only inmates fitting certain descriptions. Staff then choose inmate.
The only way to interview specific inmate is to write them a letter, get put on their phone list and then accept collect phone call.


Kentucky Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Lisa Lamb
Phone: 502-564-4726


Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections-Corrections Services
Website
Contact: Pam Laborde
Phone: 225-219-0499


Maine Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Melissa Grondin
Phone: 207-287-2711
Email


Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services
Phone: Communications Office: 410-339-5081
Rick Binetti — Executive Director of Communications: 410-339-5007
Mark Vernarelli — Director of Public Information: 410-339-5065
Danielle Lueking — Deputy Public Information Officer: 410-339-5011
Website

Of note: "Disapproval of visits must be documented and subject only to the restrictions necessary to maintain security and order, ensure the privacy and dignity of inmates, and preserve the health and safety of staff, inmates and visitors... Contact with the community through media communications (e.g., telephone, correspondence, visits, etc.-ensures a more informed public, enhances inmate morale, and protects the right of freedom of speech... Denials should be documented with rationale. Inmates must be made aware of these procedures upon admission."


Massachusetts Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Diane Wiffin
Phone: 508-422-3317


Michigan Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: John C. Cordell
Phone: 517.373.6245 (office), 517.243.8759 (cell)
Email


Minnesota Department of Corrections
Contact: John Schadl
Phone: 651/361-7229
Email


Mississippi Department of Corrections
Website
Contact: Suzanne Garbo Singletary
Email
Phone: 601-359-5608
FOI request form: Website


Missouri Department of Corrections
Contact: Chris Cline
Email
Phone: 573-522-1118


Montanta Department of Corrections
Contact: Bob Anez
Phone: 406-444-3930 x 0409
Email


Nebraska Department of Correctional Services
Contact: Dawn-Renee Smith
Phone: 402-479.5713
Email

Of note: Has different access policies for local/state vs. national/out-of-state media outlets.


Nevada Department of Corrections
Link [PDF]
Contact: Steve Suwe
Phone: 775-887-3296 (office), (702-378-5113 (cell)
Email: ssuwe@doc.nv.gov or info@doc.nv.gov


New Hampshire Department of Corrections
Contact: jlyons@nhdoc.state.nh.us
Phone: 603-271-5602


State of New Jersey Department of Corrections
Phone: 609-292-4640


New Mexico Department of Corrections
Contact: Cristina Rodda
Email
Phone: 505.827.8660


New York Department of CCS
Contact: Peter K. Cutler
Phone: 518-457-8182
Email


North Carolina Department of Corrections
Public Affairs Office: 919-716-3700

Of note: North Carolina has put together a media guide on it's web site, along with several links, resources and tips for covering their department efficiently and effectively.


North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Website
Contact: Tim Tausend
Email
Phone: 701-667-1465


Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections
Contact: JoEllen Smith
Phone: 614-752-1150
Email: joellen.smith@odrc.state.oh.us or info@drc.publicinfo@odrc.state.oh.us


Oklahoma
Contact: Jerry Massie
Phone: 405-425-2520


Oregon Department of Corrections
Contact: Jennifer Black
Email
Phone: 503-570-6416

Have a different PIO for each facility listed here: Link


Pennsylvania
Website
Press Secretary Susan McNaughton: 717-728-4025
Deputy Press Secretary Susan Bensinger: 717-728-4026
Phone for weekend/after hours: 717-773-7312
Email: smcnaughto@pa.gov or ra-cenpressoffice@pa.gov


Rhode Island Department of Corrections
Contact: Tracey E. Zeckhausen
Phone: 401-462-2609
Email


South Carolina Department of Corrections
Contact: Clark Newsom
Phone: 803-896-8578
Email


South Dakota
South Dakota Department of Corrections
Contact: Michael Winder
Phone: 605-773-3478
Email


Tennessee
Phone: 615-741-1000, ext. 8144


Texas
Contact: Jason Clark
Email
Phone: 936-437-6052


Utah
Contact: Steve Gehrke
Phone: 801.545.5500
Email


Vermont
Phone: 802-241-2276


Virginia
Contact: Larry Traylor
Phone: 804-674-3574


Washington
Contact: Chad Lewis
Phone: 360-725-8817
Email


West Virginia
Phone: 304-558-2036


Wisconsin
Contact: Tim LeMonds
Phone: 608-240-5011
Email

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Notes and Additional Information

Please note: This information is not comprehensive and is subject to change as states' policies do.

General

Policy not provided despite request: Hawaii, South Carolina

Provided policy on condition that it would not be shared: Wyoming

Policy is too brief and vague to analyze effectively: Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana

Does not have a written policy, but explained protocol: Wisconsin

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Transparency in process

Specific reasons access may be denied, with the assumption being approval: Connecticut, Delaware, Wyoming, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska

No set list of acceptable reasons for denial, with the assumption being denial: Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan

Provisions given for tours: Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Kansas, Wyoming

Due process for media complaints in the case of denial: — District of Columbia (if a reporter feels that his or her equipment was taken for any reason other than a security concern)
— Idaho (if request to interview inmate via telephone is denied by warden)
— Maine (if permission to conduct interview is denied or rescinded)

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Inmate interviews

Common:
— Inmates cannot participate in interviews if the inmate is involved in a pending court action and the court with jurisdiction in that matter has issued an order forbidding such interviews (i.e., issued a “gag” order).
— Juveniles cannot be interviewed (although there are very few states that allow it with guardian approval).
— All inmates have the right to deny an interview request or being photographed or taped.
— People on death row cannot be interviewed in most states.

Does not arrange interviews with specific inmates: California, Kansas, Michigan

Does not arrange interviews with non-specific inmates (or select inmates to fit a description given by media rep): Missouri, Nevada, New York

State that doc representative will be present during all interviews: Maine, Wyoming

Officers maintain visual access for security purposes, but are not allowed to listen in on interview: Rhode Island

Reporters cannot visit inmate or receive collect calls from inmate without official approval: Alabama

Face-to-face inmate interviews not permitted (unless exception made by director of agency): Kansas, Idaho, Iowa

Limits reporter-inmate phone interviews to 15 minutes: Arizona

Limits reporter-inmate phone interviews to 30 minutes: District of Columbia

Limits reporter-inmate face-to-face interviews to one hour: District of Columbia, Florida

Limits in-person interviews to one per year, not to exceed three hours: Colorado

States or suggests that inmates do not forfeit a personal visit by participating in a media visit: Colorado, Missouri

Suggests that inmates forfeit a personal phone call or space on call list by calling media representatives: Florida, Kansas, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire

Media may not bring anything other than writing instruments into an interview with an inmate: Michigan, New York (flex-pen and limited amount of paper)

Media may not address inmates while on tours without express permission from PIO: Wyoming

Taped interviews can only cover approved topics: Wyoming

Inmates may not be published by a news organization, act as a reporter or publish under a byline: Maine, Wyoming

List of questions to be screened in advance by PIO: Wyoming

Inmates under age 18 may be interviewed with parental/legal guardian or attorney consent: District of Columbia, Maine

Death row interviews specifically allowed to accept interview requests: Florida

Staff may terminate news/media access to an inmate if the information being sought or obtained is beyond that initially authorized: Maine

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Staff Interviews

Specify that no staff should talk to the media without prior approval from PIO and/or director: Alabama, Arizona, Idaho

States that staff have a right to talk to media, but must not act as if representing state agency: District of Columbia, Wyoming

Specify that when providing already publicly available information to the media, must inform PIO: Arizona

Specifies that all contact with media, "even unscheduled media contacts with staff of a routine or general nature shall be immediately reported to the warden/superintendent or designee who shall report to the idoc's public and media relations office": Iowa

Includes provision for 'whistleblowers' to talk to media outside of PIO: Colorado

Staff are required to notify PIO before making statements to the media about policy issues: Kentucky

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Online Presence

Have press releases issued within the past year (and have them available on their website): Arizona, Arkansas, California, District of Columbia, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts

Have not issued press releases within the past year (or, at least, do not have them available on their website): Alabama, Alaska, Maryland

Has name and number of PIO or other media liason on website: Alabama, Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin

Doesn't provide name of PIO or media liason on website: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wyoming

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