- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration defended its new ban on cameras for prison inmate interviews Wednesday, saying the policy change is meant to shield crime victims from harmful images of their assailants and remove the prospect of images circulating on the Internet as inmates make the transition back to everyday life.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections changed its policy on still and video cameras in February but it was only recently unveiled by the Star Tribune. The move prompted cries of free press violations from television stations and journalism advocacy groups as well as a concern that barring cameras from prisons would only push inmates further into the growing, faceless mass of the state’s incarcerated population.

“The public doesn’t know enough about them, who they are, how they got there, how they think. It needs to know more because of the magnitude of the problem,” said Mark Anfinson, attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association. “To make these people … even more invisible than they already are is just really bad public policy.”

Standing beside the governor Wednesday in St. Paul, Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy stressed that media organizations will be allowed the same access to inmates. They just have to leave their cameras at the door.

“The interview can still happen. I think that is the key component here,” Roy said.

He said the change corresponds with Minnesota law and those in other states that have more prison restrictions. It also relieves Minnesota from weeding through requests to bring cameras into the state’s facilities, he said.

The change wasn’t prompted by a particular incident or complaint, Roy said, but rather by general concern about the well-being of victims and the future of inmates who might not be able to move past their time in prison if video footage exists. However, Roy noted, mug shots of inmates and public records of their crimes would continue to be available.

Anfinson said he’s sensitive to the concern that victims and their family members will relive their traumatic moments after seeing the people who committed the crimes on TV, but said that doesn’t outweigh the importance of being allowed camera access in prisons.

He said the ban could be ripe for a lawsuit, as inmates have a constitutional right to talk to the media.

“Having video and audio of them is another thing. Whether that element infringes on their First Amendment right or not, I don’t think that’s really been resolved,” Anfinson said. “I think there’s a good First Amendment argument. But it’s no slam dunk.”

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