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Quinn allows limited media tours of prisons but stops short of transparency

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is allowing reporters into prisons but it took the threat of a federal lawsuit from WBEZ, and pressure from other media, and even with the new policy Quinn’s administration continues to block meaningful transparency.

WBEZ has spent months pushing to get into two minimum security prisons in Illinois; Quinn has refused citing safety and security concerns. 

In recent weeks WBEZ has been working with attorneys Jeffrey Colman and Jason Bradford from the firm Jenner and Block who volunteered their time to sue for access. They met with attorneys for Governor Quinn as well as the Department of Corrections and laid out our concerns and legal claims.

The result was a new media policy released late Friday in which the Department of Corrections will host media days when groups of reporters can tour prisons. It’s a significant victory and WBEZ will go on the tours, but reporters will not be allowed to record or photograph on those tours. The prohibition on taping severely impedes media’s ability to act as a proxy and to meaningfully inform the public about what’s happening inside.

In an email reacting to the new policy attorney Jeffrey Colman wrote that “opening the prisons to media review for the first time in several years is a positive development,” but he also wrote, “IDOC practices—including its new directive—violate constitutional guarantees and deprive the public of the ability to see how its hundreds of millions of dollars of tax money are spent.”

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