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A&A: My Request to Video a CA Parole Hearing Was Denied. What Are My rights?

Q:  I’m a TV news writer/producer seeking to cover with a small TV camera a parole hearing. I made a written request for video access and never got a response. Yesterday I called the Dept. of Corrections press office, and was told that request was turned down — but without a reason or any indication the request was seriously considered. Since cameras are routinely admitted to trials in California, I am hoping there might be a way to access this hearing.

A: Unfortunately, there is no First Amendment right to film inside of prisons, and thus decisions to allow filming are at the discretion of prison authorities.

However, the California Code of Regulation that you found, 15 CCR § 2032, is helpful, since it does state that television coverage will be allowed “unless such coverage would create a risk to the security of an institution, obstruct the hearing process, pose a risk to the personal safety of any person, or have the potential for prejudicing judicial proceedings.”  Unfortunately, there is no case law interpreting this provision (which looks like it was added to the Code of Regs in 1984), and my knowledge of media access to prisons is that courts will generally defer to prison authorities on these types of decisions.  That said, I would suggest writing back to the executive officer and asking for specific reasons for her denial in light of 15 CCR § 2032.

In your correspondence, you might want to include some discussion on the benefits of transparency and openness in connection with these hearings, and how showing viewers (as opposed to just telling viewers) what this process lookslike helps foster trust in the system.

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.  No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.

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