Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Florida Press Access to Prisons in Question: Complaints by Victims an Impetus for Review

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Florida Press Access to Prisons in Question: Complaints by Victims an Impetus for Review

Article excerpt

Florida officials won't say exactly why they put the issue on the table. But, on Sept. 17, the state's Department of Corrections lobbed a small bombshell into Sunshine newsrooms when it announced that its "liberal" policies giving media access to prison interviews will be reconsidered.

The state's decision to open the issue to debate - a policy that hasn't been visited since 1980 - comes on the heels of a "top to bottom" review of the organization, according to state officials.

"With criminals committing notorious crimes, with the media eager to publicize them, and with more attention being given to the plight and rights of victims, we are obliged to review our policies," Moore said, in a written press release. But the "straw the broke the camel's back," according to one official, was complaints by victims who's perpetrators were becoming media celebrities.

"I defy anyone to prove that's there more than a handful of excesses. Frankly, (that argument) is insulting," said William Hirschman, president of the South Florida Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and an education writer at the Fort Lauderdale Sun- Sentinel. "There are too many horror stories for taking this lightly." The announcement has sent Hirschman and much of Florida's press scrambling, eyeing the state's reconsideration with deep suspicion.

Hirschman said Florida papers - like the Sun Sentinel, the St. Petersburg Times and The Miami Herald - have been criticizing the state's department of corrections for some time, including coverage of the July 17 beating death of death-row inmate Frank Valdes at the Florida State Prison. …

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