Better Government Association endorses access to prisons but with qualifications

August 17, 2012

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Republican and Democratic lawmakers are expressing concern that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn won't let journalists see conditions in prisons. The Better Government Association is adding its voice to that chorus but with reservations.

As the head of the BGA, a watchdog group that pushes for transparency in government, Andy Shaw says he thinks reporters should be allowed inside prisons but he says, “government can't open its doors widely at all times to all groups for all things,” says Shaw.

The John Howard Association, an independent prison watchdog group, has issued several reports in the last year detailing vile conditions inside Ilinois prisons. In light of those reports WBEZ has asked to visit two minimum security prisons. Gov. Quinn says no.

Shaw says WBEZ probably wouldn't learn anything from visiting the prisons anyway.

“I think the things you've heard about anecdotally would not appear to the naked eye because they'd be cleaned up and they'd be massaged and they'd be glossed over,” says Shaw.  “Your request may not shed the light, it may actually cloud the situation even more, but that is not to say you shouldn't have access.”

Shaw says as a reporter he had to accept he couldn't get all the access he wanted.