Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy defended a ban on news cameras inside state prisons as a mechanism for protecting crime victims and the inmates themselves, saying it’s less restrictive than other prison policies throughout the country.

“We have gone out of our way to allow face to face interviews with offenders, and the only adjustment to the policy has been the disallowance of cameras,” Roy said Tuesday as he stood alongside Gov. Mark Dayton to discuss the policy with reporters. The policy, which was quietly changed in February, was questioned by Star Tribune columnist James Eli Shiffer, and the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists decried the new policy. In the past, consenting inmates were interviewed on camera for local news stories like the Star Tribune’s Young and Armed series, or this KARE11 story about pregnant inmates finding support while giving birth.

Roy said there was no incident that caused the DOC to adjust the policy, nor did crime victims specifically request it. He added that the department has turned down requests to film from entertainment shows like MSNBC’s prison documentary series “Lockup,” and requests to film music videos. He said banning all cameras makes their policy consistent. The DOC has a media relations staff designed to field questions and requests from reporters. They also monitor face-to-face interviews between the press and inmates. Still, Roy said it would be too difficult for them to discern the difference between news and entertainment.

“The establishment of criteria to make that decision would be very, very difficult.” Roy said. “What offenders, what reporter, what public interest would be served?”

Roy said that, despite that fact that the booking photos and comments made by inmates during interviews would, like photos, remain on the Internet likely indefinitely, photos and news video could have a more striking impact.

“Certainly the public record will continue to exist for those offenders; that is a matter of law,” he said. “Often offenders walk into our doors angry; they often enter in a state of where they are not rational for a period of time. We are far more interested in their future. We cannot change their words, but the issue of a live TV interview that will exist for years and years is a matter of concern.”

As he did yesterday, Dayton continued to stand by Roy and the DOC’s new policy.

“I rely on Commissioner Roy’s excellent judgment in making decisions,” he said. “I think anybody should walk in his shoes for a day or two and see what it’s like in these prisons, and see what they’re dealing with,” Dayton said. “It’s inappropriate for me to micromanage his operating decisions when I don’t have that expertise. He and his associates do, so I stand by his decision.”

Photo: DOC Commissioner Tom Roy and Gov. Mark Dayton defend the news camera ban inside Minnesota prisons

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