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.
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 3267, found at https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Regulations/.
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
- Cause of death
- Nature of injury or critical illness (unless the condition is related to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)
- 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
Media Access to Facilities
Access to adult CDCR facilities or contract facilities – prisons, community correctional facilities, re-entry facilities, prisoner mother facilities, and camps – and other CDCR offices including parole offices, requires prior approval of the institution head and the press secretary of the CDCR Office of Public and Employee Communications.
Within a facility, media representatives shall be under the direct supervision of the public information officer or his/her designee.
Media representatives cannot enter security housing units (SHU), condemned units (death row), the execution chamber, Administrative Segregation Units (AdSeg or ASU) or any area currently affected by an emergency without approval of the CDCR Secretary, the Director of the Division of Adult Institutions, 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.
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 CDC number in care of the institution where he/she is incarcerated. To get an inmate’s CDC number, call the Inmate Check Line at (916) 557-5933. You must have the correct date of birth to obtain the CDC number.
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. 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 CDC 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 and paper to an adult visitor as needed. For more information about visiting, call the toll-free CDCR Visiting Information number at 1-800-374-8474 or go to this link: http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Visitors/
Media representatives can interview inmates or parolees randomly and random or specific-person face-to-face interviews with staff. Such interviews may be restricted by time, place, duration, and the number of people in a media 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. 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 CDC 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, video taping or otherwise recording any department facilities, employees, inmates, parolees or equipment.
Non-News Access to CDC 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, public information, religious and entertainment television 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 California Film Commission permit (http://www.film.ca.gov/state/film/film_homepage.jsp) 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, its offices, employees, and agents as the “additional insureds.” 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.
Inmates may not participate in specific-person, face-to-face interviews. Random face-to-face interviews may be permitted with inmates as stipulated by the location agreement.
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 and California law.
CDCR Press Office (916) 445-4950
The Press Office, located at CDCR headquarters in Sacramento, articulates the Department’s position on issues, manages crisis communications, solicits media coverage of departmental activities, serves as a liaison to the media, and releases information to the public. The Press Office responds to media requests made under the California Public Records Act.
The Press Office also provides other services to media:
Inmate Check Line
Media representatives needing information about a convicted felon sent to state prison in California can call the Press Office’s Inmate Check Line. To request whether an individual has been sent to state prison, call (916) 557-5933. Please provide the full name and either the date of birth or the CDC number. Sentencing and/or release information will be faxed within 24 hours.
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 Administrative Segregation and Security 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 shall be informed and the reasons therefore.
Frequently asked questions about CDCR can be found on the CDCR Website
Press advisories and releases are posted on the CDCR website at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/News/2007_Press_Releases/index.html
Statistics and information about capital punishment are found at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Reports_Research/capital.html
The weekly population reports for adult prisoners and adult parolees are found at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Reports_Research/Offender_Information_Services_Branch/Population_Reports.asp
There are other reports about adult inmates and parolees, including characteristics, recidivism rates, behavior, time served and historical trends. There are also reports about DNA sampling and inmates serving three-strikes sentences. These reports can be found on the Offender Information Reports page.
Media Access to Scheduled Executions
CDCR’s Press Office processes all media requests for access to San Quentin State Prison to cover scheduled executions. The Press Office also coordinates media requests to witness executions.
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 prison 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.