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.
Downloadable State-by-State Access Policies
State-by-State Contact Information
Transparency in process
State-by-State Contact Information
Alabama Department of Corrections
Contact: Brian Corbett, Public Information Manager
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
Contact: Richard Schmitz, PIO
Phone: 907-465-4640, Cell: 907-209-5245
Of note: Ask about the department's upcoming "media institutes," which are organized by Schmitz, a former reporter.
Arizona Department of Corrections
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
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
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
Contact: Katherine Sanguinetti
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
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
District of Columbia Department of Corrections
General number: 202-673-7316
Georgia Department of Corrections
Contact: Joan Heath
Of note: Georgia's policy only covers interviews, not general access.
Hawai'i department of Public Safety - Corrections Division
Deputy Directors for Administration, Corrections & Law Enforcement
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
Contact: Jeff Ray
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
For FOIA: email@example.com
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
Contact: Sharyn Elman
Kansas Department of Corrections
Contact: Jan Lunsford
Phone: 785-291-3052 (office), 785-248-1594 (mobile)
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
Contact: Lisa Lamb
Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections-Corrections Services
Contact: Pam Laborde
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
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
Contact: Diane Wiffin
Minnesota Department of Corrections
Contact: John Schadl
Missouri Department of Corrections
Contact: Chris Cline
Montanta Department of Corrections
Contact: Bob Anez
Phone: 406-444-3930 x 0409
Nebraska Department of Correctional Services
Contact: Dawn-Renee Smith
Of note: Has different access policies for local/state vs. national/out-of-state media outlets.
New Hampshire Department of Corrections
State of New Jersey Department of Corrections
New Mexico Department of Corrections
Contact: Cristina Rodda
New York Department of CCS
Contact: Peter K. Cutler
North Carolina Department of Public Safety
Public Affairs Office: 919-733-5027
Pamela Walker, Director
Keith Acree, Adult Correction
Diana Kees, Juvenile Justice
Contact: Jerry Massie
Press Secretary Susan McNaughton: 717-728-4025
Deputy Press Secretary Susan Bensinger: 717-728-4026
Phone for weekend/after hours: 717-773-7312
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Rhode Island Department of Corrections
Contact: Tracey E. Zeckhausen
South Carolina Department of Corrections
Contact: Clark Newsom
South Dakota Department of Corrections
Contact: Michael Winder
Phone: 615-741-1000, ext. 8144
Contact: Jason Clark
Contact: Steve Gehrke
Contact: Larry Traylor
Contact: Chad Lewis
Contact: Tim LeMonds
Notes and Additional Information
Please note: This information is not comprehensive and is subject to change as states' policies do.
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
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)
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
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
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