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Public Information Office

Executive Directive on News Media Relations

NUMBER:  ED-02.40 (rev. 5)

DATE:  March 27, 2017

SUPERSEDES:  ED-02.40 (rev. 4) May 30, 2014

AUTHORITY:  Public Information Act; Tex. Gov’t Code §§ 493.001, 493.006b), 552.001–.353; BP-02.08, “Statement of Internal Controls”

APPLICABILITY:  Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)

POLICY:

The TDCJ Public Information Office (PIO) serves as the primary contact between the TDCJ and the media.

  1. Contacting the Public Information Office

    1. The TDCJ PIO may be reached by telephone at (936) 437-6052 or by fax at (936) 437-6055.

    2. During normal business hours, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except holidays, all TDCJ staff shall notify their warden or department head, who shall advise the PIO director, of any newsworthy event or TDCJ policy operational changes that might attract public interest or news coverage.

    3. During the evenings, weekends, or holidays, newsworthy information shall be reported to the Emergency Action Center (EAC), which is staffed 24 hours a day. Information from TDCJ employees can be reported by calling the EAC at (936) 437-6600 in accordance with AD-02.15,“Operations of the Emergency Action Center and Reporting Procedures for Serious or Unusual Incidents.”

    4. The EAC shall promptly notify the on-duty PIO officer of newsworthy information occurring after normal business hours.

  2. Release of Information to the Media

    1. The release of information on newsworthy events occurring within the TDCJ shall be made by the PIO director or designee.

    2. The PIO will coordinate with the respective division directors to obtain necessary factual details of a newsworthy event prior to the release of information.

    3. Names of staff or offenders who have been victimized at a TDCJ unit, contract facility, or office will be withheld until an effort has been made to notify the next of kin.

    4. Limited information regarding an offender will be released as provided in the TDCJ Public Information Act Manual. The only medical information that may be released regarding an offender is the offender’s general state of health or the nature of an injury to or critical illness suffered by the offender. No other medical information regarding an offender will be released.

    5. The PIO may release information not prohibited by law, as the PIO deems appropriate through coordination with the executive director or designee.

    6. Media inquiries regarding ongoing criminal investigations within the TDCJ or directly impacting the TDCJ will be referred to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for coordination of a response.

    7. Media inquiries regarding ongoing litigation within the TDCJ or directly impacting the TDCJ will be referred to the Office of the General Counsel for coordination of a response.

    8. Media inquiries regarding the BPP will be referred to the BPP PIO director.

    9. Media inquiries regarding the TBCJ will be made to the PIO director, who will coordinate a response with the TBCJ chairman.

    10. Media inquiries regarding the WSD will be referred to the superintendent or designee.

  3. Media Agencies Receiving Releases

    • Routine release of information on TDCJ-related matters may be sent to the major news outlets, including newspapers, radio stations, and television stations.

  4. Response to Media Inquiries

    1. Administrators, wardens, and other authorized officials shall immediately notify the PIO of all media contacts and the nature of those contacts.

    2. Only authorized personnel may make official responses to news media inquiries. The executive director or PIO director shall personally grant this authorization.

    3. Division directors or designees may be authorized to provide responses to media inquiries upon receiving approval from the PIO director.

    4. If a request is made concerning operations and events at a specific unit, the warden or designee may be authorized to respond to media inquiries, only after coordinating such release of information with the PIO director.

  5. Media Access to Units

    1. A warden may, after coordination with the PIO, impose limitations on or set conditions for media access to the unit when, in the warden’s judgment, such media access would disrupt the safety and security of the unit or cause serious operational problems. Media interviews will not be scheduled on weekends, holidays, or during offender visitation. Exceptions may be made for media attending a TDCJ-sponsored event scheduled on a weekend, such as a WSD graduation.

    2. Media representatives may be denied access to units during emergencies, disturbances, and other situations that may disrupt normal operations. Media representatives may be denied access until normal operations are restored.

  6. Interviews with Specific Offenders

    1. A media representative may interview an offender as arranged by prior appointment and with the written consent of the offender on the Media Release Form.

      1. Each interview will be no more than one hour in length; and

      2. The warden or designee may authorize non-contact interviews.

    2. An interview with an offender may be prohibited by the warden, after consultation with the PIO, when the interview, in the warden’s judgment, would impair the rehabilitation of the offender, detract from the deterrence of crime, negatively affect a victim or victim’s family, disrupt the safety and security of the unit, or cause serious operational problems. In addition:

      1. Interviews with offenders who are housed in the TDCJ medical or psychiatric facilities are prohibited. Due to medical confidentiality laws, this reason will not be cited.

      2. An interview may be prohibited when the offender has been temporarily restricted due to disciplinary violations, or if the offender has made threats against TDCJ employees or staff, other offenders, or other public officials.

      3. An interview may be prohibited for a reasonable adjustment time for a newly received offender or an offender who has returned to prison due to parole revocation or sentence reinstatement.

    3. Interviews with Death Row Offenders

      1. Any media representative requesting an interview with a death row offender shall submit the offender’s name to the PIO at least 24 hours prior to the requested interview date. Requests will not be accepted at the unit of assignment. The number of offenders interviewed is limited by the capacity of the interviewing area.

      2. Interviews with male death row offenders will be scheduled by the PIO and conducted on Wednesdays, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. Interviews with female death row offenders will be scheduled by the PIO and conducted on Tuesdays, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas.

      3. Interviews with death row offenders are limited to one hour in length.

      4. Interviews are not permitted with death row offenders on the day of their scheduled execution.

  7. Interviews with Offenders under Community Supervision

    1. The PIO director, in coordination with the Parole Division director or the Community Justice Assistance Division (CJAD) director, or designee, will handle interview requests with offenders who are in halfway houses or other types of custodial facilities.

    2. Approval for offender interviews will be made on a case-by-case basis using criteria such as the level of supervision, the type of facility where the offender resides, and the willingness of the offender to participate.

    3. Requests for interviews with parolees or probationers who live outside of a halfway house or other type of custodial facility will be handled by the PIO director, in coordination with the Parole Division director, the CJAD director, or designee.

    4. Media inquiries for the OIG will be referred directly to the OIG.


  8. Witnessing Executions

    1. Media representatives who wish to witness an execution are required to submit a request no later than three business days prior to the scheduled execution. Requests shall be prepared on official media outlet letterhead and faxed to the PIO or sent from the media organization’s corporate email account. The PIO director or designee has the final authority to approve or deny the request.

    2. Preference to witness an execution will be given to media outlets located in the area where the capital crime was committed.

    3. A representative from the Associated Press and the Huntsville Item are guaranteed an opportunity to witness each execution.

    4. For the purpose of witnessing executions, the TDCJ does not recognize college or university newspaper reporters as media.

    5. For the purpose of witnessing executions, media outlets may only designate a representative who is a regular, full-time employee of the news organization. Stringers, part-time employees, and freelance reporters are not allowed.

  9. Other Conditions of Media Access

    1. Media access is considered distinct from other forms of access to offenders and will not be combined with other visits. Reporters who are or were formerly listed on an offender’s personal visitation list will not be recognized as media and will be ineligible for media access to a particular offender, regardless of their actual media affiliation.

    2. Attorneys and family members are not allowed to be present during an interview of an offender by a media representative.

    3. Media representatives may not be present during attorney visits or when family or friends visit offenders.

    4. Media access is prioritized by the PIO according to the media outlet’s deadline.

    5. Live television, radio or satellite interviews, and telephonic media interviews with offenders are prohibited.

    6. Offenders may not receive compensation for interviews or participation in any media project. Media found to be providing compensation to an offender or offender family will not be allowed access to any TDCJ facility.

  10. Photographs of Offenders

    • Photographs or videos of offenders require the written consent of the offender when the offender’s face can clearly be identified. Exceptions would apply to photos or videos showing the offender from behind, or other angles, which would render individual identification impossible. Departmental identification photographs are considered public record and are available upon request.

  11. Access by Other Writers and Researchers

    1. Access to units and offender interviews for editorial researchers, filmmakers, production companies, book authors, magazine writers, freelance journalists, and other non-news media representatives may be permitted on the same basis and under the same conditions as access by media described in Sections V through VII with the permission of the PIO director. Scholastic research requests shall be made to Executive Services in accordance with AD-02.28, “TDCJ Research.”

    2. Book authors, production companies, and freelance journalists shall provide a copy of their contract or agreement with a news organization, distributor, or publisher prior to obtaining authorization to interview an offender.

  12. Contract Facilities

    • TDCJ contract facilities, such as private prisons, privately operated state jails, halfway houses, intermediate sanction facilities, transitional treatment centers, and pre-parole transfer facilities, will, in coordination with the PIO director and the director of the Private Facility Contract Monitoring/Oversight Division, provide for reasonable and responsible media access through written policy, practices, and procedures that are in accordance with confidentiality rules and regulations. This directive will be used as a guide for contract facilities.