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Online resource available for journalists seeking access
Contacts: Kyle Elyse Niederpruem, SPJ Board President, 317/444-6385, or firstname.lastname@example.org
INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists launched one of its most aggressive initiatives to assist journalists with a Web-based directory of state prison policies governing access to inmates.
“For the first time ever, we go beyond what even state government has attempted — or refuses to do,” said Kyle Elyse Niederpruem, SPJ Board president and an assistant city editor at The Indianapolis Star.
SPJ’s Project Sunshine volunteers — a network of experts and journalists from each state — collected regulations from state correction officials. The online resource provides copies of state policies in a downloadable form.
In addition to the policies, the site includes:
* A summary of rules governing reporting tools that can be used during media interviews * Public visitation list procedures
* Special notes about inmate visitation lists
* Information about witnessing executions
* Contacts for state corrections agencies and governors’ offices
Gary Hill, director of investigations for KSTP-TV in Minneapolis and a former SPJ chapter president, said the online directory will assist his team in daily reporting.
“We now have a record number of Americans under lock and key,” Hill said. “Keeping an eye on our prisons was never more important for professional journalists.
“While our station is located in Minnesota, our signal reaches well into Wisconsin and skirts Iowa and both Dakotas,” Hill added. “This helps to let us know where we stand before we ever approach the prison authorities for access.”
In some cases, state officials refused to provide the information. Eventually, since these policies are public record, the states complied with the Society’s requests. The Society is encouraging state governments to post their policies electronically, a service that fewer than a dozen states now provide.
“Our organization has been the leader in prison access issues,” said Ian Marquand, chairman of the Society’s Freedom of Information Committee. “We, as journalists, once again are the public’s eyes and ears on these issues.”
SPJ has taken the lead — nationally and locally — in recognizing that access to prisons is an important issue. The organization has filed formal objections to restrictive policies, written prison officials, testified at state hearings and lobbied for increased public access to prisons.
“The documentation becomes very important when you are trying to negotiate your way into a prison,” said Charles Davis, director of the Freedom of Information Center at the Missouri School of Journalism. “You have to know what the (rules are) before you go.”
View the state-by-state directory online.
SPJ’s September Quill magazine — the annual Freedom of Information special issue — also offers practical tips to journalists covering prisons.