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Communications Department

Executive Directive on News Media Relations

NUMBER:  ED-02.40 (rev. 7)

DATE:  May 7, 2021

SUPERSEDES:  ED-02.40 (rev. 6) May 21, 2019

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

APPLICABILITY:  Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)

POLICY:

The TDCJ Communications Department serves as the primary contact between the TDCJ and the media. This policy does not include or pertain to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice (TBCJ) or entities that report to the TBCJ.

DEFINITIONS:

The following terms are defined for the purpose of this policy and are not intended to be applicable to other policies or procedures.

“Authorized Personnel” are the employees of the TDCJ, or contract facilities, who have received authorization to speak with the media on behalf of the TDCJ on a particular subject matter or event.

“Business Day” is Monday through Friday, excluding state and national holidays for which the TDCJ’s administrative offices are closed, and days when offices are closed at the direction of the TDCJ executive director, for example, during adverse weather conditions.

“Media” is a member of the editorial and reporting staff of a newspaper or magazine listed in the Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media or the Editor & Publisher International Year Book, the editorial and reporting staff of a radio or television station holding a Federal Communications Commission license, individuals who are actively gathering news for an entity that is organized and operated to publish news to the public by making their products available for purchase or subscription, or individuals who have otherwise been identified as news media by the director of the TDCJ Communications Department.

“Newsworthy Event” is any incident or situation that attracts, or has the potential to attract, the attention of the news media. Examples include employee or inmate deaths or injuries, disturbances at TDCJ units or contract facilities, incidents involving parolees or other individuals under supervision, disciplinary action taken against an employee, TDCJ policy or operational changes, memorial or dedication ceremonies held at TDCJ units or contract facilities, or an event involving the Windham School District (WSD).

“Stringers” or “Freelancers” are journalists who are not the regular staff of a newspaper or online news service but who write stories for that newspaper or online news service.

  1. Contacting the TDCJ Communications Department

    1. The TDCJ Communications Department may be reached by telephone at (936) 437‑6052 or by fax at (936) 437‑6055.

    2. On business days, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., all TDCJ staff shall notify their warden or department head, who shall advise the director of the TDCJ Communications Department, of any newsworthy event that might attract public interest or news coverage.

    3. During the evenings, weekends, or holidays, newsworthy events shall be reported to the Emergency Action Center (EAC). 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 TDCJ Communications Department officer of newsworthy events 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 director of the TDCJ Communications Department or designee.

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

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

    6. Media inquiries regarding the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) or ongoing criminal investigations within the TDCJ or directly impacting the TDCJ will be referred to the 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 Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) will be referred to the BPP Public Information Office.

    9. Media inquiries regarding the TBCJ will be made to the director of the TDCJ Communications Department, 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, television stations, and online news outlets.

  4. Response to Media Inquiries

    1. Administrators, wardens, and other authorized officials shall immediately notify the TDCJ Communications Department 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 director of the TDCJ Communications Department shall personally grant this authorization.

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

    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 director of the TDCJ Communications Department.

  5. Media Access to Units

    1. The TDCJ Communications Department, in coordination with the warden and the director of the Correctional Institutions Division (CID) or Private Facility Contract Monitoring/Oversight Division (PFCMOD), may 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 inmate 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 Inmates

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

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

      2. The warden or designee may authorize contact or non-contact interviews, dependent upon the custody level of the inmate or other security concerns.

      3. No documents, photographs, video, or other materials may be exchanged between the media representative and inmate.

      4. Telephonic interviews are prohibited.

      5. In an emergency situation where visitation is suspended, media interviews may be conducted through alternate means facilitated by the TDCJ Communications Department through coordination with the warden and the director of the CID or PFCMOD. All other guidelines apply to these interviews and are subject to the discretion of the director of the TDCJ Communications Department.

    2. An interview with an inmate may be prohibited by the warden, after consultation with the director of the TDCJ Communications Department, when the interview, in the warden’s judgment, would impair the rehabilitation of the inmate, 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 inmates 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 inmate has been temporarily restricted due to disciplinary violations, or if the inmate has made threats against TDCJ employees or staff, other inmates, or other public officials.

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

    3. Interviews with Death Row Inmates

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

      2. Interviews with male death row inmates will be scheduled by the TDCJ Communications Department 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 inmates will be scheduled by the TDCJ Communications Department 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 inmates are limited to one hour in length.

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

  7. Interviews with Inmates under Community Supervision

    1. The director of the TDCJ Communications Department, in coordination with the Parole Division director or the Community Justice Assistance Division (CJAD) director, or designee, will handle interview requests with inmates who are in residential reentry centers or other types of custodial facilities.

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

    3. Requests for interviews with parolees or probationers who live outside of a residential reentry center or other type of custodial facility will be handled by the director of the TDCJ Communications Department, in coordination with the Parole Division director, the CJAD director, or designee.

  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 TDCJ Communications Department or sent from the media organization’s corporate email account. The director of the TDCJ Communications Department 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 media representative from the Associated Press and a media representative from 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 media representative who is a regular employee of the news organization. Stringers and freelance reporters are not allowed.

  9. Other Conditions of Media Access

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

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

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

    4. Media access is prioritized by the TDCJ Communications Department according to the media outlet’s deadline.

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

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

    7. Requests for interviews of employees, contractors, vendors, inmates, parolees, or probationers may require coordination of interrelated division directors, department heads or designees at the discretion of the director of the TDCJ Communications Department.

  10. Photographs of Inmates

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

  11. Access by Other Writers and Researchers

    1. Access to units and inmate 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 director of the TDCJ Communications Department. 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 inmate.

  12. Contract Facilities

    • TDCJ contract facilities, such as private prisons, privately operated state jails, residential reentry centers, intermediate sanction facilities, and transitional treatment centers will, in coordination with the director of the TDCJ Communications Department and the director of the PFCMOD, 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.