A&A: Interviews with Inmates Can’t Be Recorded

Q: I am producing a documentary about a Pennsylvania radical cult group. As part of the documentary, I would like to film interviews with several cult members who are serving prison sentences for the murder. The PA department of corrections has denied my request, citing a five year old policy barring all recording inside PA state prisons. Any help or advice you could provide would be much appreciated.

A: Because of security issues, authorities generally have broad discretion to control public access to prisons. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that the media does not have a greater right to access prisons than the general public. Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817 (1974).

I am not aware of any Pennsylvania authority providing for greater access rights to prisons in that state. As a practical matter, this means that it could be very difficult to challenge the policy against recording.

You might try contacting a Pennsylvania chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (http://www.spj.org/region1.asp#7) for more information on how the policy has generally been applied to the media andthoughts on how you might proceed.

I hope this information is useful and wish you luck with your documentary.