Following is a summary of state law, California regulations and department policies and procedures regarding media access and activities at CDCR adult institutions and juvenile facilities.
CDCR’s current media access policies do not prohibit any members of the media from visiting an institution or reporting on what’s occurring within California’s prisons. CDCR regularly schedules media visits or tours, and issues media advisories inviting local, state, and national media organizations to events and programs within institutions statewide. Media are free to interview incarcerated persons at random in these programs and others they encounter during their visit to the institution.
CDCR cannot arrange one-on-one interviews with specific incarcerated persons, but the department does not prohibit a member of the media from contacting the incarcerated person themselves. Members of the media may contact an incarcerated person by:
- Writing via the United States Postal Service.
- Becoming an approved visitor and meet with the person face-to-face during regular visiting hours or participate in a video visit.
- Providing a phone number in which the incarcerated person can place a call during the incarcerated person’s telephone privileges. All calls made by incarcerated persons are now free.
Additional information on CDCR’s Media Access Policies are below.
Media Policies for Adult Institutions
California correctional facilities and programs are operated at public expense for the protection of society. The public has a right and a duty to know how such facilities and programs are being operated. It is the policy of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to make known to the public through the news media all relevant information pertaining to operations of the department and facilities. However, due consideration will be given to all factors which might threaten the health and safety of a facility in any way and of those who work, live and visit them, or unnecessarily intrude upon the personal privacy of incarcerated people and staff. The public must be given a true and accurate picture of department institutions and parole operations.
Following is a summary of California regulations and department policies and procedures regarding media access and activities. The complete regulations are found in the California Code of Regulations, Title 15, Sections 3260 through 3261.7. Media policies are found in Chapter 1, Article 13 of the Department Operations Manual.
For definition purposes, a news media representative is a journalist who works for, or is under contract to, a newspaper, magazine, wire service, book publisher, website, podcast or television program or station or who, through press passes issued by a governmental or police agency, can demonstrate that they are a bona fide journalist engaged in the gathering of information for distribution to the public.
CDCR’s Press Office researches and responds to inquiries from the media. Facts are gathered as quickly as possible and provided to the inquirer. If the requested facts are not known or are otherwise unavailable, the inquirer is informed and the reasons therefore.
Authorized release of information
The following data that may be released about an incarcerated person, individual on parole, or a former offender includes:
- Race and/or ethnicity
- County of last legal residence
- Commitment offense
- Date of admission to CDCR and CDCR number
- Facility assignments and a general description of behavior
- Patient health condition given in short and general terms that do not communicate specific medical information about the individual, such as good, fair, serious, critical, treated and released, or undetermined
- Manner of death as natural, homicide, suicide, accidental, or executed
- Sentencing and release actions.
Information about the state prison history of parolees or former offenders who have been arrested or are under investigation by an outside law enforcement agency will only be released with authorization from the arresting or investigating agency.
CDCR employee data that may be released includes:
- Civil service classification
- Work assignment
- Length of service with the department and/or current division or unit
- Past work assignments
- Role or function in a newsworthy event
Information endangering an employee or concerning an employee who is a crime victim shall not be released to the media or to any member of the public.
Media access to facilities
Access to adult CDCR facilities and/or contract facilities – including prisons, community-based and reentry facilities and conservation camps – and other CDCR offices (including parole offices), requires prior approval of the institution head and the Assistant Secretary of the CDCR Office of Public and Employee Communications (OPEC) or designee.
Within a facility, media representatives shall be under the direct supervision of the public information officer or his/her designee.
Media representatives shall not enter condemned units (death row), the execution chamber, or any area currently affected by an emergency without approval of the CDCR Secretary or designee. Access is not permitted to units with mental health crisis beds or any area housing patients under medical isolation or quarantine.
There may be limited access to other areas. These may include control booths, guard towers, protective housing units, reception centers, units housing patients and contracted health care facilities. Random interviews in units housing patients shall be closely monitored to protect health care privacy. Health care staff shall ensure that signs, charts and/or any other patient identifiers are not visible. Media access to clinical areas where health care is delivered, e.g. dialysis centers, dental clinics, and triage and treatment areas, may only be allowed when no patients are present.
Media representatives need to supply a full name, date of birth, social security number and driver’s license number to process a security clearance for access to an institution. Media representatives from outside the United States need to supply a full name, date of birth and passport information; complete a California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) Foreign National Screening Form; and submit a Cal OES Visit Request Form. If it is a breaking story, media representatives may be allowed access to an area outside the secure perimeter of a facility.
Media access to parole hearings
Media access to parole hearings is governed by the California Code of Regulations, Title 15, Division 2, Sections 2031 and 2031. Requests to attend life prisoner parole suitability hearings must be submitted at least three working days prior to the date of the hearing. The Executive Officer of the Board of Parole Hearings approves news and non-news media representatives’ requests to attend parole hearings and must authorize their use of cameras and recording devices. To request attendance, send an email to email@example.com.
Writing an incarcerated person
California law prohibits one-on-one media interviews with specific incarcerated people. Media representatives may contact any incarcerated person by mail. It is not necessary to notify CDCR before communicating with an incarcerated person. Incoming letters are opened, inspected for contraband, subject to be read, and then forwarded to the incarcerated person. To ensure prompt processing, mail the letter to the incarcerated person using their full name and CDCR number in care of the institution where they are housed. To get their CDCR number, use the Inmate Locator.
Telephoning an incarcerated person
Most incarcerated people have access to telephones and can make outgoing collect calls on designated telephones according to their privilege group. Limitations are placed on the frequency of such calls to allow equal access to telephones by all incarcerated people.
When corresponding with an incarcerated person, media representatives may provide a telephone number where they can call them collect. It is up to the incarcerated person to initiate the call. No restriction is placed on the identity or relationship to the incarcerated person of the person called providing the person agrees to accept all charges for the call. Telephone calls are limited to 15 minutes and may be recorded. Media representatives may also record the call with the incarcerated person’s permission. Media representatives do not need CDCR’s permission to record a telephone conversation with an incarcerated person.
Messages will not be taken by staff to incarcerated people.
Visiting an incarcerated person
All incarcerated people are allowed in-person and virtual visits with approved visitors. If a media representative wishes to visit an incarcerated person, write to them and ask them to send you a CDCR Form 106, Visiting Questionnaire. Your completed questionnaire must be submitted and approved by the institution before your visit. The application process takes about 30 working days. All approved visitors – friend, relative, attorney, or member of the media – may visit; however, they may not bring in cameras or recording devices. The institution will provide, upon request, pencil, pen and paper to an adult visitor as needed. The rules established in state law for visiting also apply during video visits. Since no recording, videotaping or photography is allowed in visiting, the same rules apply for virtual visiting. Failure to adhere to the rules by any party during a video visit will result in termination of the video visit and may include disciplinary action and/or visitor suspensions.
For more information about visiting, call the toll-free CDCR Visitation Information number at 1-800-374-8474 or review the Visitation page. See also the Frequently Asked Questions for in-person and video visiting, which includes information about CDCR’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Interviews with incarcerated people, patients and staff
Media representatives may be permitted random face-to-face interviews with incarcerated people and people on parole supervision who consent. Such interviews may be restricted by time, place, duration, and the number of people in a technical crew. Random interviews of incarcerated people involved in a specific activity or program, or encountered while covering a facility activity or event, shall be limited to the time, areas and segments of the facility population designated by the institution head.
News media representatives may be permitted random face-to-face interviews with patients receiving health care services and living in units that provide health care treatment. The warden and the health care chief executive officer may restrict the time, place and duration of such interviews, the size of technical crews, and the amount and type of equipment. Consideration shall be given to factors that may disrupt the operation of the unit. Participation is restricted to patients who have the capacity for giving informed consent. Filming, video and audio recording, and photography will not be allowed of patients who do not have the capacity to give informed consent. Media interviews shall not be permitted with a patient suffering from a mental illness which, in the opinion of a psychiatrist or psychologist, renders them incapable of giving informed consent or their condition bay be worsened by such an interview.
An incarcerated person may not participate in specific-person, face-to-face interviews.
Media representatives may be permitted random or specific-person face-to-face interviews with staff who consent provided such interviews do not interfere with the normal operations or the security of an institution.
No incarcerated person, parolee or staff shall be interviewed against their will.
Use of cameras or recording devices inside an institution or on state property under CDCR’s jurisdiction requires prior approval.
A CDCR Form 146, Inmate Declaration to News Media Contact, shall be completed for each incarcerated person before a photograph, film, audio recording or videotape identifying them may be taken.
Media representatives or their organization may be required to pay the security or escort costs provided for interviews.
Cameras and audio or visual recording devices
Possession of any camera, wireless microphone or other recording device within a CDCR facility is prohibited unless specifically authorized by the institution head and OPEC. A location agreement and a film permit from the California Film Commission may be required for filming on state property.
An incarcerated person’s consent is not required in settings like an exercise yard or dining hall where individuals are not singled out or where their identity is not revealed. Before such shots are taken however, incarcerated people shall be advised so those who do not want to be recognized may turn away or leave the area.
Staff cannot prohibit a person who is not on state property from photographing, filming, videotaping or otherwise recording any department facilities, employees, incarcerated people, parolees or equipment.
Requests for photos of incarcerated people, people on parole, or former residents
Offender photos are public documents and news and non-news media representatives are permitted access to identification photographs without an incarcerated person’s or parolee’s consent. There is no need to submit a request for photos under the California Public Records Act.
Offender photographs are not provided if the release of a photo endangers an incarcerated person or parolee or could jeopardize an ongoing law enforcement investigation. If a news media representative requests a photo of a parolee or discharged offender who has been arrested and/or is under investigation by a law enforcement agency, CDCR, in accordance with state law, will contact the arresting or investigating agency to authorize the release of photos and/or commitment offense information. This is to protect the integrity of an ongoing criminal investigation and potential future investigations where additional witnesses and victims may be interviewed.
Seeking commitment offense information
Media representatives seeking information about a person serving time or who has previously served time in state prison in California may email the request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide the person’s full name and either the date of birth or CDCR number. You may also call (916) 445-4950. In either case, a reply can be expected within two business days.
Stock video footage and photographs
CDCR’s Office of Public and Employee Communications maintains a library of stock video footage and still photographs and makes them available to the media upon request. There is current and archived footage and photographs of correctional facilities and programs, including restricted or limited access areas such as control booths, guard towers, the execution chamber, death row, and restricted housing units.
In the event of an actual or suspected escape, walk away or accidental release, CDCR’s Press Office shall notify radio and television stations and newspapers in the surrounding communities and the missing incarcerated person’s home community. Information provided includes the missing incarcerated person’s physical description, estimated time of disappearance, an identification photograph, the facility’s search efforts and cooperation with law enforcement agencies.
The Press Office also notifies media when incarcerated people or reentry participants walk away or escape from a CDCR facility.
Media Policies for Juvenile Facilities
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities, camps, and parole programs are operated at public expense to provide education and treatment to California’s youthful offenders up to the age of 25 who have the most serious criminal backgrounds and most intense treatment needs.
The public has a right and a duty to know how such facilities and programs are being operated. It is the policy of the DJJ, to the extent possible, to make known to the public through the news media relevant information pertaining to the operations of the Division and its facilities.
Below is a summary of DJJ regulations, policies, and procedures regarding media access and activities.
Disclosure of Youth Information
The Welfare and Institutions Code Section 1764 permits public disclosure of the following information for youth 16 years of age or older who were committed to DJJ by a criminal court, or who were committed to an adult institution and subsequently transferred to DJJ:
- Name and age
- The court of commitment and the offense that was the basis of the commitment
- The date of commitment
- Any facility where the youth is or was confined
- The actions taken by any paroling authority regarding the youth, which relates to parole dates
- The date the youth is scheduled to be released to the community
- The date the youth was placed on parole
- The date the youth was discharged from DJJ’s jurisdiction and the basis for the discharge
- In any case where the youth has escaped from a DJJ facility, a physical description of the youth and the circumstances of the escape.
Juvenile Court Commitment Information
Juvenile court documents, pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 827, are confidential and are not to be released to the public, including reporters, without the expressed permission of the originating juvenile court (See Cimarusti v. Superior Court (2DCA 2000) 79 Cal. App. 4th 799).
Information on juvenile court commitment youths or parolees is confidential unless committed for one of the offenses outlined in Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 676.
Disclosure of Information on Staff
Information on DJJ employees that may be released includes:
- Civil service classification
- Length of service with the Division and/or state
Media Access to Facilities
- Access to any DJJ facility, including schools, and camps, requires prior approval of the Superintendent of the facility and the CDCR Assistant Secretary of Communications or their designee.
- Media representatives may be limited in access to areas of a facility. These areas may include control booths, guard towers, reception centers, classrooms and vocational areas, and units housing mentally, seriously, or terminally ill youths.
- Media representatives shall supply a full name, date of birth, social security number and driver’s license number as well as identification verifying their employment to process a security clearance for access to a facility. Media representatives from outside the United States need to supply a full name, date of birth and passport information; complete a California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) Foreign National Screening Form; and submit a Cal OES Visit Request Form. If it is a breaking story, media representatives may be allowed access to an area outside the secure perimeter of a facility and, at the discretion of the Superintendent, inside the facility, if the safety of staff, youths, and visitors can be assured.
Writing and Telephoning a Youth
- Media representatives may contact any youth by mail. It is not necessary for media to notify DJJ before communicating with a youth by mail. Incoming letters may be opened, inspected for contraband, subject to be read, and then forwarded to the youth, or withheld if objectionable or inappropriate material is contained within. To ensure prompt processing, the letter should be mailed to the youth using their full name and the YA number (if available) in care of the facility where they are living.
- Most youths have access to telephones and can make outgoing collect calls on designated telephones according to their privileges. In general, limitations may be placed on the frequency of such calls to allow equal access to telephones by all youths and are subject to the discretion of the Superintendent at the facility or camp. When corresponding with a youth, media representatives may consider giving a telephone number where a youth can call them collect. It is up to the youth to initiate the call. No restriction is placed on the identity or relationship to the youth of the person called providing they agree to accept all charges for the call. Telephone calls are limited and may be monitored or recorded. Media representatives may also record the call with the youth’s permission. Staff will not take messages to or from youth.
- Media representatives may interview youths if the proper waivers are signed. In addition, media may conduct interviews with a staff member who is willing to be interviewed. Such interviews may be restricted by time, place, duration, and the number of people in a media crew.
Encounter Interviews by Media
Media representatives encountering a youth while covering the DJJ’s programs in general, may conduct a brief interview with a youth if:
- The youth is at least 18 years old.
- The youth gives written consent (through the use of a Declaration to News Media Contact, CDCR Form 146).
- The written consent is obtained of a parent, legal guardian or the committing court if the youth is 17 years of age or younger.
Request to Photograph a Youth
A youth’s written permission must be obtained before their photograph is displayed and/or taken in a manner that individually identifies them to the public. This consent should be consistent, and follow protocols outlined in the section Disclosure of Youth Information.
- Use of cameras or recording devices inside a facility or on state property requires prior approval and is typically granted unless the equipment or activity poses a security risk, at the discretion of the Superintendent. Photos of certain areas of the facility or camp that compromise security shall not be taken.
- Media interviews shall not be permitted with any youth suffering from a mental illness when, in the opinion of a psychiatrist or psychologist, the youth is not capable of giving informed consent.
- Limited access may be permitted to seriously or terminally ill patients and their housing areas as long as appropriate waivers have been signed.
Cameras and Other Audio or Visual Recording Devices
- Plans to possess any camera, wireless microphone or other recording device within a DJJ facility must be specifically noted when applying for access to any DJJ facility.
- A youth’s written consent is required in settings such as an exercise yard or dining hall where individuals are not singled out or when a person’s identity cannot be revealed because of age or consent issues. Before such shots are taken, youths shall be advised so those who do not want to be recognized may turn away or leave the area. Youths who might be in the range of focus must have a signed consent on file.
- Media representatives shall not be permitted access to identification photographs (mug shots) unless there is an escape from either a facility or camp and the youth in question poses a threat to the general public.
- Staff cannot prohibit a person who is not on state property from photographing, filming, videotaping or otherwise recording any DJJ facilities, employees, youths, or equipment.
Non-News Access to DJJ Facilities
All non-news motion picture, radio, or television programs produced at any DJJ facility must have prior approval. See Filming in Facilities webpage.
Prior Youth Commitment Information
Media representatives needing information about a youth committed to or released from a DJJ facility or camp can call the Office of Public and Employee Communications at (916) 445-4950 or email at email@example.com.
In the event of an actual or suspected escape, the public information officer or designee at the facility shall notify radio and television stations and newspapers in the surrounding communities and the missing youth’s home community. In addition, the DJJ Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services will immediately inform victims and their immediate family who have placed themselves on a notification list to be updated on any developments in the youth’s stay at DJJ. The facility or camp will provide the missing youth’s physical description, estimated time of disappearance, an identification photograph, and a summary of the facility’s search efforts and cooperation with law enforcement agencies.
More information about DJJ can be found on their website.
The regulations governing DJJ are found in the California Code of Regulations Title 15, Division 4 and Division 6 of Title 9.