Maryland DOC’s Ban on Media Interviews with Prisoners Upheld
Maryland Circuit Court found apetition filed by a group of prisoners who were denied interviews by a local newspaper was moot, but questioned the propriety of using victims’ rights as a reason for prison officials to veto the interviews.
In November 2007, Jessup Correctional Institution (JCI) prisoners Robert Morgan, Rashid Salih, Ronald Ellis and Larry Bratt formed the Extra Legalese Group (ELG). Fellow prisoners Vincent Greco and Dwight Davis-Bey later joined the group.
ELG sponsors several programs at JCI; within two months of its formation, it set up a literary lab to help prisoners with poor reading skills. The group’s efforts focus on “the desire to find solutions to the sad reality of violence and victimization in our communities,” said Greco.
To that aim, ELG’s Peace Initiative strives to prevent crime in prison and on the streets by uniting gang members, at-risk youth, community and religious leaders, and prisoners to stop violence “where it is most likely to transpire and replicate: amongst gangs and prisoners who have engaged in violent crime and who, unfortunately, are emulated by the youth,” Morgan wrote.
A Maryland newspaper, The Daily Record, recognized ELG’s Peace Initiative with its 2011 Innovator of the Year Award, which honors Maryland businesses and individuals who “have had a positive effect and tremendous impact” in the state. The Daily Record requested that Morgan, Salih, Ellis, Bratt, Greco and Davis-Bey participate in interviews and photos in September 2011.
Prison officials only allowed two of the ELG members to be interviewed and photographed. When Frank Dunbaugh, executive director of the Maryland Justice Policy Institute and a member of ELG’s Community Support Coalition, inquired as to why the other four members were excluded, John Michael Stouffer, then-Commissioner of the Maryland Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services, replied, “DOC policy regarding the fair treatment for the victims of our incarcerated criminals was followed.”
That policy relates to a DOC directive which states prison authorities, “when communicating with media representatives, shall be sensitive to the concerns of crime victims and shall respect and protect their legal rights.”
After exhausting administrative remedies, Morgan, Bratt, Greco and Salih sought judicial review in circuit court. The court found their request for media access had been properly denied because it was filed with only 48 hours advance notice, and that a prison policy requiring 30 days’ notice was reasonable. Additionally, the court held the matter was moot because The Daily Record had already published an article about the newspaper’s award to ELG.
However, the circuit court provided dictum on the issue as a guide for future conduct, noting that the state had “conceded that it does not contend that any ‘Victims Rights’ Policy’ precluded the participation of the inmates in any ... interviews or photographs.” Further, the court noted that no specific victim’s rights under Maryland law were implicated, and that crime victims’ organizations may even support ELG’s violence prevention efforts.
Jenny Adkins, whose son was killed by gang members in 2009, agreed with the latter point. “If one of the six kids who killed my son were sentenced to life in prison for killing him, you better believe that if he were trying to create a peace initiative to save other kids from what they did, I’d be more than happy with it,” she said. See: Petitions of Salih, Bratt, Greco and Morgan, Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County (MD), Consolidated Case No. 02-C-12-168130.
Additional sources: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, www.extralegalese.com
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Related legal case
Petitions of Salih, Bratt, Greco and Morgan
|Cite||Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County (MD), Consolidated Case No. 02-C-12-168130|
|Level||State Trial Court|