TAZEWELL, Tenn. (WATE) – A Claiborne County family is pushing for change when it comes to inmates and photos.
Tennessee lawmakers are looking at a bill that would put new restrictions on where photos of inmates with visitors can go.
Under the current Tennessee Department of Correction policy, inmates inside state prisons, at times, are allowed to have photos taken with visiting loved ones on a digital camera. This happens during visits on certain holidays and it’s only in designated visitor areas. Once those printed photos are taken outside the prison, TDOC does not have any policy preventing those photos from being shared by visitors.
This week, 8th Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler criticized what he calls prison party photos making it to social media. He hopes to protect victims’ loved ones from further pain.
Sisters Miranda Adams and Tamara Smith keep pictures of their aunt, Janet Brock, on both of their phones.
“She basically was our second mother,” Adams said.
Janet’s life was cut short. In 2006, a jury convicted Janet’s husband, Jamie Brock, of first-degree murder for bludgeoning her to death with a baseball bat.
“Everyone loved her. Everyone who had ever been around her loved her, so it was hard to imagine who would want to hurt her or do anything to take her out of this world so early,” Smith said.
The sisters say they always expected to see Jamie Brock in court, but they never expected to see him in a photo on Facebook the day after Christmas in 2018.
“It hurt. We can’t have her back. She can’t hug us and take a picture,” Smith said.
“They’re supposed to be punished for what they did and when you see a photo of them smiling, it makes me sick. It made me sick,” Adams said.
The sisters are pushing for change with a bill that would restrict inmate photos with visitors and where those photos can go.
“I believe all too often that victims’ rights are lost especially in the modern-day dialogue of criminal justice reform,” Effler said.
Tennessee Senate Bill 2534 outlines that photos could not be sent through email, text message, the mail, social media or any other electronic medium or broadcast.
“We’re saying yes the family and friends can have that photograph, but you can’t violate crime victims’ constitutional right to be free from harassment and abuse by disseminating that photograph,” Effler said.
LMU Duncan School of Law professor Akram Faizer, who focuses on U.S. constitutional law, says inmates don’t have the same rights as free people, and in some ways, this bill does impose on a visitor’s First Amendment rights.
“In view of a blanket restriction on photos, it would be very harsh on the families of inmates,” Faizer said. “They plausibly could consider giving prison officials a right to impose conditions on those who take those photos. In other words, you could take that photo to show your son, but that photo can’t be used to be disseminated on social media.”
We asked Effler how this bill would work if it passes.
“The Department of Correction would put those persons on notice who receive this photograph that if they disseminate it, that they are doing an illegal act and then it would be up to the district attorneys across the state to follow up on that if there is any public dissemination,” he said.
For Smith and Adams, they feel this bill gives an added layer of justice.
“Our family shouldn’t have to wonder if we’re going to get on their one day and see his face. We shouldn’t have to see his face period. We deserve that much to not relive what we went through,” Smith said.
TDOC released the following statement:
It is important to understand that visitation, which the referenced photos are being taken, is not an ‘event’ and there are certainly no parties taking place during visitation. Visitation is simply and exactly what it sounds like; a time for family and loved ones of offenders to visit them at the facility where they are housed. It is a generally subdued occurrence within a modest and structured environment. The claim that there are “pictures of parties” that are being conducted or “hosted” by the Tennessee Department of Correction at “taxpayer expense’ is blatantly false; nothing could be further from the truth. There is no such thing as monthly parties in state prisons. What our policy allows is an opportunity for family reunification for offenders as they prepare to return home. In accordance with policy, inmate photographs may be taken on officially designated holidays, in the main visiting gallery (which means not ALL offenders are afforded this opportunity) by designated staff. Visitation is a required standard by the American Correctional Association and a practice that our department has had in place for many years. Allowing children of incarcerated parents and other family members to take occasional photographs with their loved ones supports efforts toward building families and reducing recidivism. Evidence shows that when an offender has strong and supportive family ties upon release, he or she is more likely to be successful when they return home.
Current TDOC policy allows photos under the following conditions:
- Photographs will be taken of inmates and visitors inside the visiting gallery (in an area designated by the warden/superintendent) during regular visiting hours, against a wall with no security doors, fences, etc., visible in the background.
- Photographs will be taken by designated staff or designated volunteers only, utilizing a disposable 35mm camera/digital camera which is purchased through the Trust Fund Visitation Photographs organization account. Staff will handle all development and distribution of photographs.
- The cost of the photographs will be $2 per photograph and will be limited to four per visitor on the day of the visit. The photo will be purchased and paid for at least 10 days before pictures are taken.
- All finished photographs will be viewed by the STG coordinator to ensure decent dress, no obscene gestures, no STG signs, etc. If the STG coordinator deems the picture unsuitable for these reasons, no refund or retake shall be allowed.
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