BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana Department of Corrections has agreed to ease restrictions on prisoner interviews with journalists to settle a lawsuit filed by a student journalist and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana.
A former project coordinator for the Wrongful Conviction Project at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication, Christopher Lowery filed suit in 2017 after he was denied a request to interview Darold Hines, an Angola inmate, according to The Lens.
In his complaint, Lowery explained how he had been trying to arrange an in-person interview since 2015 with Hines, who was convicted in the 1994 fatal shooting of a Plaquemine man.
Hines claimed he was wrongfully convicted, and the Department of Corrections repeatedly rejected all such requests by Lowery to meet with him. Until the time of the settlement, officials cited department policy for turning down all interview requests where details about the alleged crimes may have been covered, say it is out of concern for the family of the victims, The Lens reported.
“Darold Hines has a right to tell his story, and Christopher Lowery has a right to report it,” Bruce Hamilton, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Louisiana said in a recent news release, The Lens reported. “Today’s settlement is a victory for government transparency, for a free and independent press, and for the right of all people, including people in prison, to speak out and make their voices heard.”
Hamilton added that the policy was a violation of Hines’ and Lowery’s First and 14th amendment rights to seek post-conviction relief and report on issues of public concern respectively, and the regulations will now be deleted from all department publications and internal memos.
New Orleans attorney Scott Sternberg represented the plaintiffs, and during the course of the proceedings compared the the previous policies “to a content-based restriction on expression.”