Access to Prisons

In two cases decided on the same day in 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court said that state and federal prison regulations barring journalists from interviewing individual inmates did not violate the First Amendment. In Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817 (1974), and Saxbe v. Washington Post, 417 U.S. 817 (1974), the Court deferred to the judgment of prison officials who believed press interviews compromised security and discipline. The Court also said that journalists had the same right of access to prisons as the general public. Similarly, the Court in Houchins v. KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1 (1978), rejected a television station’s argument that barring cameras and sound equipment from public tours of a county jail infringed on the station’s First Amendment rights as long as all members of the public faced the same restrictions.

State and federal courts consistently have found that it does not violate the First Amendment to bar the media from filming prisoner executions. In Garrett v. Estelle, 556 F.2d 1274 (5th Cir. 1977), a federal appellate court upheld a Texas regulation barring the filming of executions for broadcast. In 2001, a federal court in Entertainment Network Inc. v. Lappin, 134 F.Supp.2d 1002 (S.D. Ind. 2001), upheld a federal prison’s decision to bar the Internet broadcast of an execution. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said in 2002, in California First Amendment Coalition v. Woodford, 299 F.3d 868 (9th Cir. 2002), that California prison officials violated the First Amendment when they kept reporters and other witnesses invited to view an execution from seeing part of the lethal injection process.

ANTHONY L. FARGO

References and Further Reading

  • Frost, Kristen, Case Notes and Comments: The Constitutionality of an Internet Execution: Lappin v. Entertainment Network, Inc., DePaul–LCA Journal of Art and Entertainment Law 12 (Spring 2002): 173–216. 
  • Levi, Nicholas, Note: Veil of Secrecy: Public Executions, Limitations on Reporting Capital Punishment, and the Content Based Nature of Private Execution Laws, Federal Communications Law Journal 55 (December 2002): 131–152. 

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • California First Amendment Coalition v. Woodford, 299 F.3d 868 (9th Cir. 2002) 
  • Entertainment Network, Inc. v. Lappin, 134 F.Supp.2d 1002 (S.D. Ind. 2001) 
  • Garrett v. Estelle, 556 F.2d 1274 (5th Cir. 1977) 
  • Houchins v. KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1 (1978) 
  • Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817 (1974) 
  • Saxbe v. Washington Post, 417 U.S. 843 (1974) 

See also Capital Punishment: History and Politics; Freedom of Speech and Press: Nineteenth Century; Press Clause (I): Framing and History from Colonial Period up to Early National Period; Prisoners and Freedom of Speech

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