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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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