The Sacramento Bee reports that some convicted killers awaiting execution at San Quentinincluding those who murdered Laci Peterson and Polly Klaascommunicate with the public through their own Web pages, provided by the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty.
The prisoners have no direct online access; their messages and images are instead taken from letters they mail out to friends and supporters, who in any event could if they wished create much more attractive, informative and current pages than the very crude examples afforded on the Canadian site.
A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections, Terry Thornton, is quoted as acknowledging that prisoners have free speech rights that cannot be infringed, but that "Our concern is that they don't revictimize people, don't harm people in any way."
Revictimize is a neologism coined by various social and political scientists (and victim cults) meaning, roughly, to add verbal insult to criminal injury by reminding the victim of the original offense. In one extreme form it implies that any public discussion by the offender of the offense is a needless and deliberate assault on the sensibilities of the offended. In its most extreme form it means that any public discussion by anyone about and involving the offender in some sense repeats the injury to the offended, and is likewise to be avoided.
It is that latter sense of the term that the Department of Corrections adopted under Governor Pete Wilson in the mid-1990s to justify ending the policy, then in effect since the 1970s, allowing journalists to arrange face-to-face interviews with willing inmates as well as to receive unopened mail from them. The departments rhetoric at the time stressed the need to avoid giving publicity to particular inmates, an exposure which might 1) make them big wheels in the prison population, fomenting intramural envy, tension and even violence; and 2) glamorize the offenders and thereby revictimize those their crimes had injured.
Neither anecdotal reports at the time nor any academic research then or since has established any validity to these essentially political claims.
Since then, every governor has vetoed legislation to restore journalists previous access at least once, and Governor Schwarzenegger has killed four such bills, parroting the revictimization cant of the 1990s censors. His most recent veto message, dating from just over a year ago, promised to address media access concerns through new regulations then being considered, but there have been no amendments to the interview ban since 1997. The irony is thus that while even the most unrepentent murderer can if he wishes feed his appetite for public attention with an Internet showcase for his own uncontradicted reflections, no professional journalist can interview himabout anythingunless stumbling into him on a random walk through the institution.
There was little doubt among journalists at the time that the new restrictions were intended to cut off uncontrollable press inquiry into conditions behind prison walls, given the unflattering reports on the subject recently published or broadcast. As recalled by Boston Woodard, a veteran inmate journalist in 2006,
Also in the mid-l990s, the CDCP was dealing with the FBI investigating the use of lethal force at Cocoran State Prison. Several employees were placed on administrative leave, including an associate warden. Corcoran prison officials allowed lower ranking lieutenants and sergeants to "stack the tiers" in certain cell-blocks with rival gang members. When the prisoners were released to the exercise yard and began to fight, perimeter (gun tower) guards would shoot them with high-powered rifles. The "code of silence" used and condoned by the California Correctional Peace Officer's Association (CCPOA) exacerbated matters causing rank-and-file staff to be pressured into silence.