The ban appears to be directed more toward tabloid television than the print media, but the restriction is across the board.
Tip Kindel, assistant director of the state Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, told E&P the press will still be allowed in the prisons to generally interview for investigations of conditions there, but interviews with specified prisoners are barred. The order applies to all 135,000 inmates in California's 31 prisons.
A reporter may get on a convict's official visiting list but cannot bring cameras, tape recorders, notebooks, pens or pencils to the meeting.
Kindel said the decision to block access to inmates was taken after two months of internal review, adding: "It came to a head as the result of a number of inmates becoming media stars or using the media to continue their careers or to embark on new ones. It was becoming a kind of sideline business for them."
Kindel cited one prisoner, Kody Scott, a k a "Monster Kody," who wrote a book about his life and subsequently granted media interviews "for the exclusive purpose of promoting the book."
The official also noted that the notorious Charles Manson, in observing his 60th birthday and the 25th anniversary of his crimes, turned out T-shirts and a compact disc, one of whose songs was featured on a Guns 'n' Roses album.
"This kind of activity is not the reason people are sent to prison," Kindel said. "The purpose of prison is punishment. It seems contradictory for inmates who are supposed to be doing hard time to wind up on prime time."
Earlier, J.P.Tremblay, assistant secretary of the corrections agency, told the San Francisco Chronicle: "Why should some guy benefit from committing a crime? We did this because we didn't want to have inmates becoming celebrities and heroes."
Tremblay said his agency has even had requests for interviews with lawbreakers who have yet to serve any time, such as "Madam to the Stars" Heidi Fleiss, whose pandering conviction is on appeal.
According to Kindel, YACA did not intend to include mainstream newspapers in the ban but was advised by its attorneys that the restriction had to be "all inclusive."
However, prisoners can still write to media with complaints, or telephone them, Kindel said. Prisoners' letters and phone calls are routinely monitored in the state prison system.
Asked what value a journalist would see in visiting an inmate without any tools of his profession, Kindel replied: "He could look them in the eye and test their veracity ? to see if they're telling the truth."
Terry Francke, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said there is little the press can do to overturn the regulation, "however idiotic it may be."
But he predicted that it will be "short-lived because it will eventually become an embarrassment" to prison officials and the state.
"Whether inmates are becoming celebrities is not at the top of citizens' concerns about the prison system," Francke said. "Of course, everyone knows about Charles Manson, but who has heard about Kody Scott, or cares?"
The unfortunate effect of the ban, Francke said, is that prisoners with legitimate complaints will have no outlet for them.
"This order smacks of the old days in South Africa when prisoners were shut off from the press," he added.
"It's an exercise in peevishness typical of this administration."
photo by bettmann/upi
?(The official also noted that the notorious Charles Manson, in observing his 60th birthday and the 25th anniversary of his crimes, turned out T-shirts and a compact disc, one of whose songs was featured on a Guns 'n' Roses album.) [Photo & Caption]
By: M.L. STEIN FEARING THAT MEDIA encounters tend to glamorize felons, California prison authorities have clamped a lid on journalists conducting interviews with inmates.