October 26, 2012

Gov. Quinn to Allow Prison Tours

News reporters can expect tours of Illinois prisons. Gov. Pat Quinn’s Administration appears to be changing its tune on allowing reporters inside state prisons. 


After barring journalists from the state's prisons, the Illinois Department of Corrections has reversed course. But Friday afternoon, DOC announced it would allow media tours after all. 

Previous requests to tour state prisons have been turned down due to security precautions.

But a news release from the Governor's staff today says the Department of Corrections is working to schedule media tours of prisons. 

Correction spokeswoman Stacey Solano says despite the change, "safety and security continues to be the department's top priority.''

The prisons tours will be held starting next month and into January at three prisons in Vienna, Vandalia and Pontiac. 

It says access will remain at the Corrections Director's discretion. State Treasurer Dan Rutherford has been among those criticizing Quinn’s decision to bar the media from correctional facilities.

In an email reacting to the new policy attorney Jeffrey Colman wrote that “opening the prisons to media review for the first time in several years is a positive development,” but he also wrote, “IDOC practices—including its new directive—violate constitutional guarantees and deprive the public of the ability to see how its hundreds of millions of dollars of tax money are spent.”

The policy shift comes after news this week that a group of college students from Heartland Community College in Normal were allowed to tour the Pontiac prison. 

The Agency says they were only allowed in administrative areas, not where inmates are held. 

Reporters will have to rely on pen and paper, but cameras and audio recorders won't be allowed.

October 02, 2012

NPR's Nina Totenberg to Receive University Journalism Award

NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg will be honored by the University of Illinois this week. 

She’s the 2012 recipient of the Illinois Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism.  Totenberg will receive the award Friday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The prize honors those whose career contributions to public affairs represent the best achievements of American journalism.  U of I journalism head Rich Martin says Totenberg is "richly deserving" of the prize since "she has established herself as the nation’s premier legal reporter," he said.

Totenberg started with NPR in 1975.  Prior to that, she was a print journalist- splitting time with the Boston Record American, National Observer, and New Times Magazine. 

Her 1991 report on University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment by Judge Clarence Thomas led the Senate Judiciary Committee to re-open Supreme Court confirmation hearings. 

NPR received the George Foster Peabody Award for the coverage of the hearings.  And in 1998, Totenberg was named Broadcaster of the Year by the National Press Foundation, and she received the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Edward R Morrow Award in 2010.

August 21, 2012

Illinois AG's Office Sides with News-Gazette in FOIA Request

The Illinois Attorney General’s office is once again siding with the News-Gazette in Champaign in its request for information from citizen complaints about Champaign police conduct. But their opinion released August 16th is a non-binding one, which does not require compliance.

News-Gazette reporter Patrick Wade said he had been hoping for a binding ruling that would force the city of Champaign to either release the requested information or take the matter to court.

Wade and the News-Gazette filed their initial Freedom of Information Request with the city of Champaign in June of 2011. It sought a list of all complaints against the Champaign Police Department, its officers and employees for the past five years. The city's response partially complied with the request, leaving out the names of officers who were the subject of complaints, but who had not been subject to discipline by the department.

The opinion issued by Lisa Madigan’s office said it wasn’t enough to release only those complaints that resulted in officers being disciplined. In addition, the Attorney General’s office said all complaints about police conduct, including the names of officers, should be released.

"We cannot overlook the extremely strong public interest in access to citizen complaints against public officers and employees," according to the opinion written by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Rogina of the office's Public Access Burea.

"Under the Record Review Act, the City asserts that it may withhold disciplinary matters more than four years old and that the responsive complaints would qualify as disciplinary records," Rogina added. "The City, however, concedes that several different courses of action may be taken by the Department in response to a citizen complaint. Because a citizen complaint may not result in discipline, a citizen complaint cannot qualify as a disciplinary record.

Wade said he understands the reluctance of city officials to give out officers’ names from complaints, when those complaints did not result in discipline. However, he noted the controversial 2011 Campustown arrest of Brandon Ward, in which officers connected to the s arrest were disciplined only after a follow-up investigation.

“One of the issues with the citizens’ complaint process in that the police police themselves,” Wade said. “It’s all self-investigated, self-policed. Who’s to say that they’re always going to look at these complaints properly?”

Champaign city attorney Fred Stavins said information on cases where disciple was handed out meets the terms of the Freedom of Information Act.

“If it’s part of the adjudicatory process, the statute is clear, that the (redacted) information does not have to be produced,” Stavins said. “Only the final outcome of the discipline has to be produced. That’s what the statute says.”

Stavins said more discussion is needed before the city responds to the non-binding opinion from the Attorney General’s office. The opinion states that the office's Public Access Counselor does not believe that a binding opinion is required.

August 21, 2012

Chief Judge: Cook Co. Readying for Court Cameras

Cook County's chief judge says his court system should be ready to introduce cameras in courtrooms by the end of the year, although Illinois Supreme Court officials say there's no specific timetable for putting them in place.

Judge Timothy Evans spoke to Chicago-area media Tuesday about a Supreme Court pilot project that's allowing cameras in Illinois courts for the first time.

Evans says the high court has deferred Cook County's application while officials watch how the experiment plays out in 13 other counties. He says Cook County can learn from the smaller counties' experiences.

Supreme Court spokesman Joseph Tybor says the court will review DuPage County's application for cameras next and that Kane County has also indicated it will apply.

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