Following is a summary of California regulations and department policies and procedures regarding media access and activities at CDCR adult institutions and youth facilities.
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 safety of a facility in any way or unnecessarily intrude upon the personal privacy of inmates 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 Article 13 of the Department Operations Manual.
Authorized Release of Information
The following data that may be released about an inmate or parolee includes:
- Place of previous residence
- Commitment information
- Facility assignments and behavior
- General state of health given in short and non-medical terms such as good, poor or stable
- Cause of death
- Sentencing and release actions.
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.
Media Access to Facilities
Access to adult CDCR facilities or contract facilities – prisons, community correctional facilities, reentry facilities, 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 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.
There may be limited access to other areas. These may include control booths, guard towers, protective housing units, reception centers, and units housing mentally, seriously or terminally ill inmates.
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. If it is a breaking story, media representatives may be allowed access to an area outside the secure perimeter of the facility.
Requests to attend life prisoner parole hearings are handled by the Board of Parole Hearings at (916) 323-2993 or send an email to email@example.com.
Writing, Telephoning and Visiting an Inmate
Media representatives may contact any state prison inmate by mail. It is not necessary for media to notify CDCR before communicating with an inmate. Incoming letters are opened, inspected for contraband, subject to be read, and then forwarded to the inmate. To ensure prompt processing, mail the letter to the inmate using his/her full name and CDCR number in care of the institution where he/she is incarcerated. To get an inmate’s CDCR number, use the Inmate Locator.
Most inmates 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 inmates.
When corresponding with an inmate, media representatives may provide a telephone number where an inmate can call them collect. It is up to the inmate to initiate the call. No restriction is placed on the identity or relationship to the inmate 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 inmate’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 inmates.
All inmates are allowed visits with approved visitors. If a media representative wishes to visit an inmate, write to the inmate and ask him/her 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, pens and paper to an adult visitor as needed. For more information about visiting, call the toll-free CDCR Visitation Information number at 1-800-374-8474 or the Visitation page.
Media representatives may be permitted random face-to-face interviews with inmates or parolees who consent. Such interviews may be restricted by time, place, duration, and the number of people in a technical crew. Random interviews of inmates 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. Inmates 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 security of an institution.
No inmate, parolee or staff shall be interviewed against their will.
Use of cameras or recording devices inside an institution or on state property requires prior approval.
A CDCR Form 146, Inmate Declaration To News Media Contact, shall be completed whenever an inmate is the subject of a still, motion picture or other recording intended for use by a television or radio station, or newspaper, magazine or other publication.
Media interviews shall not be permitted with an inmate suffering from a mental illness when, in the opinion of a psychiatrist or psychologist, the inmate is not capable of giving informed consent.
Controlled access may be permitted to seriously or terminally ill patients and their housing areas.
Media representatives or their organization may be required to pay the security or escort costs provided for interviews.
Cameras and Other 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. A location agreement and a film permit from the California Film Commission may be required for filming on state property.
An inmate’s consent is not required in settings like an exercise yard or dining hall where individuals are not singled out or where an inmate’s identity is not revealed. Before such shots are taken however, inmates shall be advised so those who do not want to be recognized may turn away or leave the area.
Unless there is a specified threat of imminent danger to an inmate or parolee by releasing their photograph, media representatives shall be permitted access to identification photographs (mug shots) without the inmate’s or parolee’s consent.
Staff cannot prohibit a person who is not on state property from photographing, filming, videotaping or otherwise recording any department facilities, employees, inmates, parolees or equipment.
Non-News Access to CDCR Facilities
All non-news motion picture, radio, or television programs produced at any CDCR facility must have prior approval. For definition purposes, non-news related productions include features, documentaries, news magazine programs, commercials, and pilots for proposed news or entertainment programs.
The process for approval consideration begins with a written request to the CDCR Press Office. The request should include:
- Details of the project and production location needs
- Production schedule and duration
- Crew size
- Any access to inmates
- Script sections that pertain to CDCR
- Scenes to be filmed inside a CDCR facility
- Type/quantity of production equipment on premises
- Any satellite or microwave transmission from a CDCR facility
If project approval is given, a location agreement must be executed with the parent firm and a film permit from the California Film Commission will be required along with evidence of financial responsibility and liability insurance in the amount of at least $1 million with the State of California, including its officers, agents and employees as the “additional insured.” Part of the agreement provides for defending and indemnifying the State against any lawsuits. Another part of the agreement also states that the parent firm is responsible for reasonable staffing costs, including benefits and overtime rates of pay, directly associated with its filming activities.
Editorial researchers, freelance writers, authors of books, independent filmmakers, and other unaccredited media must provide proof of employment by an accredited publication/production company, or have evidence that an accredited publication/production company has contracted to purchase the completed project.
Please allow a minimum of 20 working days for the least complicated request. There are no assurances that access will be granted; however, CDCR does try to accommodate requests within available resources consistent with the safe and secure operations of its institutions, California law and departmental policy.
CDCR Press Office: (916) 445-4950
The Press Office, located at CDCR headquarters in Sacramento, oversees all media outreach and articulates the Department’s position on operations, policies, employees, offenders, programs and issues. The Press Office manages crisis communications, solicits media coverage of departmental activities, serves as a liaison to the media, releases information to the public and facilitates media access to institutions, programs, employees and offenders pursuant to state law and departmental policies. The Press Office responds to media requests made under the California Public Records Act.
The Press Office also provides other services to media:
Offender Commitment offense information
Media representatives seeking information about a convicted felon sent to state prison in California should email the request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide the offender’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 Still Photographs
The Office of Public and Employee Communications maintains a library of stock video footage and still photographs and makes these 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.
The 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.
In the event of an actual or suspected escape, the Public Information Officer or designee shall notify radio and television stations and newspapers in the surrounding communities and the missing inmate’s home community. The PIO will provide the missing inmate’s physical description, estimated time of disappearance, an identification photograph, the facility’s search efforts and cooperation with law enforcement agencies.
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 operations of the Division and facilities.
Below is a summary of DJJ regulations, policies, and procedures regarding media access and activities. Copies of these policies are available upon request.
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 parole offices, schools, and camps, requires prior approval of the Superintendent of the facility and the CDCR Assistant Secretary of Communications or their designated representative(s).
- 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 as well as identification verifying their employment. If it is a breaking story, media representatives may be allowed access to an area outside the secure perimeter of the 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 his/her full name and the YA number (if available) in care of the facility where he/she is 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 the person agrees 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 his/her photograph is displayed and/or taken in a manner that individually identifies him/her 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, camp, or supervised parole setting and the youth or parolee 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, parolees 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 Non-News Access to CDCR Facilities section above.
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 here: https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/juvenile-justice/
The regulations governing DJJ are found in the California Code of Regulations Title 15, Division 4.