IRE Conference Blog

Getting access to information inside prisons

By Perla Arellano

There are many stories behind prison bars. Prison gangs, medical care, autopsy records, and flawed prison programs are just a few of the ideas offered at a panel sponsored by Criminal Justice Journalists. But getting access to the information inside prisons to build the story at some times may seem impossible.           

The Criminal justice: Prisons session had Scott Henson from Grits for Breakfast Blog, Kirk Mitchell from The Denver Post, Jessica Pupovac from the National Public Radio, Mike Ward from Austin American-Statesman, and Abe Levy from San Francisco Express-News as the moderator.          

The panel was about the difficulties a journalist might face while looking for information on prisons and jails.          

Pupovac, who also collected information over the access of information in prisons for the Society of Professional Journalist, offered a few tips:

  • Strike while iron is cold -- establish a relationship with officials when there isn’t crisis. Journalists often don’t go looking for a story until something goes wrong.
  • Often expect to have to turn over birthday or your social security number for a background check.        
  • Use their titles- Call the warden, warden and a correctional officer, officer not a guard.         
  • Don’t forget about sources outside walls         
  • Report story with healthy skepticism         
  • Learn your lingo- Learn the difference between probation and parole; jail and prison.·         
  • Know agencies policy

To read Jessica Pupovac's collected data from SPJ, http://www.spj.org/prisonaccess.asp.

Perla Arellano is a journalistm student at Amarillo College.

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