357 F.Supp. 770 (D.D.C. 1972), Civ. A. 467-72, Washington Post Co. v. Kleindienst

Docket Nº:Civ. A. 467-72
Citation:357 F.Supp. 770
Party Name:Washington Post Co. v. Kleindienst
Case Date:April 05, 1972
Court:United States District Courts, District of Columbia

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357 F.Supp. 770 (D.D.C. 1972)

The WASHINGTON POST CO. and Ben H. Bagdikian, Plaintiffs,


Richard G. KLEINDIENST, Acting Attorney General of the United States and Norman A. Carlson, Director, United States Bureau of Prisons, Defendants.

Civ. A. No. 467-72.

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

April 5, 1972

Declaration and Order May 12, 1972.

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Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Charles H. Wilson, Jr., Richard M. Cooper, Williams, Connolly & Califano, Washington, D. C., for plaintiffs.

Joseph Hannon, Michael A. Katz, Asst. U. S. Attys., Washington, D. C., for defendants.


GESELL, District Judge.

This complaint seeks injunctive and declaratory relief. Plaintiffs, a newspaper and one of its experienced reporters, sought permission to interview certain prisoners at two federal penitentiaries: Lewisburg and Danbury. Defendant Carlson denied this request, relying on the Bureau of Prisons' Policy Statement of February 11, 1972, which flatly prohibits any interviews of prisoners subject to control of the Bureau, regardless of the reason for the request or the prisoner's status or offense. 1 Plaintiffs claim that this flat prohibition of the policy contravenes the First Amendment. They emphasize their desire to interview only prisoners willing to be interviewed and they recognize reasonable restraints as to time and place may be imposed so long as such interviews are not censored or overheard by prison officials. Restrictions upon interviews during periods of prison emergency are not questioned in this litigation.

Plaintiffs have a legitimate news interest. The Washington Post has run a comprehensive series on prison conditions, illustrated by articles attached to the complaint. The unsuccessful effort to interview which led to this litigation related to matter of obvious public interest. Recent work stoppages at Lewisburg and Danbury had apparently been satisfactorily resolved without bloodshed through negotiations between the Wardens and inmate representatives. Information subsequently came to the Washington Post that inmate ringleaders had been punished and that this was contrary to assurances given by prison authorities. The newspaper had reason to believe that some members of the inmate negotiating committees may have been placed in solitary, maced, deprived of necessary medical care and otherwise harshly treated. This information came from lawyers for inmates and their relatives, from prisoner letters and also from scattered congressional sources. The newspaper was interested not only in publicizing these apparently peaceful settlements which contrasted with several recent violent prison outbreaks but was prepared to expose any brutality or unwarranted retaliatory discipline if intimations received proved well founded.

Defendants contend that the press has no constitutional right of access to inmates for confidential interviews and urge that the same Bureau policy which permits contact between prisoners and the media both through uncensored mail and by casual conversations held in the course of prison tours 2 provides sufficient access and is not arbitrary.

The Court denied a temporary restraining order immediately after the complaint was filed. Thereafter a hearing was promptly held on the prayer for

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preliminary injunction. Testimony was taken from several penal experts 3 and the parties have filed detailed briefs. With consent of the parties the matter was submitted to the Court for final decision on the merits following the hearing. 4

There are few decisions that have considered whether the First Amendment implicitly guarantees access to news sources under special conditions such as those here presented. 5 While the right to publish is firmly established, the Amendment's implications in terms of access are not resolved. There is, of course, an absolute right of privacy which the press cannot invade. An individual may refuse to be interviewed. Those who wish to consult or meet in private for the day-to-day conduct of public or business affairs may, in furtherance of their own common right to privacy, exclude the media. These commonly accepted situations are, however, obviously quite distinct from the special circumstances presented by this particular controversy. Here the Bureau has not denied the press access to its own personnel. Rather, it has imposed a bar on persons placed in its care by the courts who may wish to talk with the press and are willing to be interviewed.

There is no law that deprives prisoners of their right to speech by communicating with the press. Indeed, the courts have repeatedly been at pains to point out that the fact of conviction does not automatically deprive prisoners of rights guaranteed under the Constitution. "[A] prisoner does not shed his First Amendment rights at the prison portals." Brown v. Peyton, 437 F.2d 1228, 1230 (4th Cir. 1971). Indeed, "A prisoner retains all the rights of an ordinary citizen except those expressly, or by necessary implication, taken from him by law." Coffin v. Reichard, 143 F.2d 443, 445 (6th Cir. 1944), cert. denied, 325 U.S. 887, 65 S.Ct. 1568, 89 L.Ed. 2001 (1945). While "[l]awful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights ...," reasonable necessity, to be determined on a case-by-case basis, must dictate any official retraction of such rights. Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S. 266, 285-286, 68 S.Ct. 1049, 1060, 92 L.Ed. 1356 (1948). The courts have repeatedly preserved First Amendment rights of prisoners to the free exercise of religion, Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546, 84 S.Ct. 1733, 12 L.Ed.2d 1030 (1964); Brown v. Peyton, supra; Barnett v. Rodgers, 133 U.S.App.D.C. 296, 410 F.2d 995 (1969); Long v. Parker, 390 F.2d 816 (3rd Cir. 1968); to receive mail, Palmigiano v. Travisono, 317 F.Supp. 776 (D.R.I. 1970); to receive newsletters, Fortune Society v. McGinnis, 319 F.Supp. 901 (S.D.N.Y. 1970); and, notably, to communicate with the press by uncensored mail concerning prison management, treatment of offenders, or personal grievances, Nolan v. Fitzpatrick, 451 F.2d 545 (1st Cir. 1971).

The press can be superficial, overly persistent and sometimes lacking in objectivity, but nonetheless the need

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to grant substantial press access to prisoners is readily apparent. Prisons are public institutions. The conduct of these institutions is a matter of public concern. Whenever people are incarcerated, whether it be in a prison, an insane asylum, or an institution such as those for the senile and retarded, opportunity for human indignities and administrative insensitivity exists. Those thus deprived of freedom live out of the public's view. It is largely only through the media that a failure in a particular institution to adhere to minimum standards of human dignity can be exposed. Indeed, needed reforms in these areas have often been sparked by press attention. Conversely, secrecy is inconsistent with responsible official conduct of public institutions for it creates suspicion, rumor, indifference, if not distrust. Disinterest causes abuses to multiply. See Grosjean v. American Press Co., supra.

The Bureau is not wholly unconscious of these considerations. It recognizes that the public has a legitimate and hopefully continuing interest in its affairs. It has not sought completely to black out the press. Federal penal institutions are open to reasonable press inspection and confidential mail communication between prisoners and the press is permitted. There is no evidence that the Bureau is attempting to conceal. In spite of the serious overcrowding and lack of adequate funds for personnel and essential programs, it is attempting to set a high standard of inmate care.

In refusing to permit press interviews under any circumstances, the Bureau is prompted by considerations of administrative convenience and possible disciplinary or other difficulties which undue press attention to particular inmates may engender, affecting either the individual prisoner or his fellow inmates. The Washington Post insists that the in-depth individual inmate interviews are essential to...

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