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No more news cameras in prison: Why they were banned – and who's upset about it

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Officials are defending the Minnesota Department of Corrections' new policy that bans media cameras inside the state's prisons, meaning the days of face-to-face interviews with inmates is effectively over.

Here's a look at what the new policy means, and why local media groups are outraged.

The policy – then and now

Previously, the DOC allowed news crews to photograph and videotape interviews with inmates who consented.

This new policy, which was quietly adopted earlier this year, still allows in-person media interviews – just without the camera.

"A visit facilitated by the communications unit and lasting one hour in length. The representative of the public news media may bring a recording device (if approved), paper, and a writing utensil. Video and photography cameras are not allowed."

But it goes further than that, placing cameras in the "contraband" category – lumping them in with lighters, knives and pornography, among other prohibited items.

Minnesota state law allows inmates to speak with the media, but it doesn't specify the use of cameras.

Defending the ban

DOC officials defended the policy Wednesday, saying it is meant to protect inmates and victims by limiting images from circulating in the news and on the Internet, the Pioneer Press reports.

Gov. Mark Dayton has expressed his support of the policy, the Star Tribune says.

Officials did say no specific incident led to the policy change, and no group or organization had asked for such a policy, KSTP notes.

Despite prohibiting photography and video in prisons, the DOC will still provide inmate mugshots on its website, reports note, but DOC officials say news stories may have a more striking impact on victims, the Star Tribune notes.

Sparking outrage

Several local journalists and media advocacy groups expressed concern over the policy, saying banning cameras from prisons will further distance the public from the 10,000 inmates in the state prison system.

Star Tribune reporter James Eli Shiffer questioned the policy in an editorial, noting many in-person, on-camera stories on inmates over the years would now not be possible.

He also noted the irony of the ban's timing, which comes when the state is considering allowing cameras in courtrooms.

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists expressed its "outrage" over the policy and asked the DOC to reverse it, saying the DOC's concerns could be dealt with through other methods, not a full ban on cameras.

The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press also strongly oppose the policy, saying it's a violation of an inmate's right to freedom of speech.

Mark Anfinson, attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Associationtold The Associated Press he's sensitive to concerns over victims, but that doesn't outweigh the importance of allowing cameras in prisons.

He says the ban could result in a lawsuit based on the First Amendment.

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