Crime & Courts

Federal Lawsuit Seeks To Overturn South Carolina’s Ban On Inmate Interviews

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready… A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) seeks to overturn a long-standing policy prohibiting inmates in South Carolina prisons from communicating with members of the media. South Carolina’s Department of Corrections (SCDC) has one of the most restrictive prohibitions in the nation…

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) seeks to overturn a long-standing policy prohibiting inmates in South Carolina prisons from communicating with members of the media.

South Carolina’s Department of Corrections (SCDC) has one of the most restrictive prohibitions in the nation when it comes to members of the media speaking with prisoners — banning interviews by anyone, on any topic, and by any real-time means either in person, by video or by phone. While correspondence by mail is allowed, publication of a prisoner’s written speech is also prohibited.

The ACLU’s lawsuit seeks to change these policies in an attempt to preserve the “First Amendment right to receive and publish the speech of incarcerated people. “

Filed in U.S. district court in Columbia, South Carolina, the lawsuit references two inmates who “seek to publish speech on several matters of deep public concern: prison administration, prison healthcare, gender equity, and the propriety of capital punishment.” According to the filing, the organization’s ability to interview these inmates and publish what they are told is impeded by SCDC’s “overbroad” policies.

(Click to View)

Prisoner contact with members of the press is governed by SCDC Policy GA-02.01.

The filing cited a recent incident in which notorious convicted killer Alex Murdaugh landed in hot water with prison officials for abusing his access to a state-issued tablet.

Murdaugh – imprisoned for life after a Colleton County jury found him guilty of murdering his wife and younger son – was cited by SCDC on August 28, 2023 for violations tied to his participation in a Fox Nation documentary.

“The charges involve providing information to be delivered to the news media for an interview and also using a fellow inmate’s PIN number to make a telephone call,” an SCDC press release (.pdf) stated. “These charges violate SCDC’s inmate interview policy and our policy against inmates sharing PIN numbers.”

An incident report accompanying the release stated Murdaugh “willingly and knowingly abused his telephone privileges to communicate with the news media for his own gain.”

SCDC’s policy is “rooted in victims’ rights,” according to the agency – specifically the belief that “victims of crime should not have to see or hear the person who victimized them or their family member on the news.”

“Inmates lose the privilege of speaking to the media when they enter SCDC,” the release noted.

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RELATED | ALEX MURDAUGH REPRIMANDED FOR PRISON INTERVIEW

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The violation resulted in an immediate revocation of Mr. Murdaugh’s tablet and phone privileges. In addition to the sanctions Murdaugh received, SCDC also sent a letter to his attorney, Jim Griffin, informing him his actions in connection with the violations were prohibited by SCDC policy and future abuses “could jeopardize [Griffin’s] telephonic communications with [Murdaugh].” 

While referencing the widely reported sanctions faced by SCDC’s most well-known inmates, the ACLU’s lawsuit insisted the agency’s prohibition has far-reaching impacts on inmates who are not quite so famous.

Among them? Marion Bowman Jr.

Currently on death row for the 2001 shooting of a young Orangeburg, S.C. mother, Bowman has exhausted his appeals and post-conviction claims and is now preparing a petition for executive clemency. 

As part of its mission, the ACLU advocates for death penalty abolition and improving prison conditions. In that capacity, it is working with Bowman “to help him publicize his case, his petition for clemency, and his experience of life on death row in South Carolina.”

While the ACLU has access to Bowman by telephone, video calls, and through in-person visitation, it is unable to publish his story in his own words.

“A story about Marion Bowman — that is, a telling of his case and his life behind bars — is not functionally equivalent to a story by Marion Bowman,” the lawsuit noted.

(Click to View)

Marion Bowman Jr. (SCDC)

In a statement to this media outlet, SCDC spokeswoman Chrysti Shain stood by the agency’s prohibition.

“SCDC allows inmates to write letters to the press, family or whomever they choose,” Shain said. “It also provides indigent inmates with paper, envelopes and stamps. This is a well-documented and longstanding policy and practice.”

“However, inmates who do interviews can create a prison safety concern as they gain notoriety from the media attention,” she added. “(This) can lead to issues with that inmate’s safety and other security concerns.”

Among those concerns, Shain cited institutional security.

“Allowing in-person media interviews could create opportunities for inmates to manipulate or deceive the media, potentially endangering the institution’s security,” she said. “Inmates could provide false information, make threats or exploit vulnerabilities within the system, which could lead to unrest among the prison population or even pose a risk to public safety. In-person media interviews could inadvertently reveal sensitive information about prison operations, security protocols, or even the identities of prison staff or informants. This information could be exploited by individuals seeking to harm the prison system or compromise the safety of inmates and staff.”

Shain also noted the impact in-person interviews would have on an already strained staffing situation, stating they “would require a high number of staff to properly supervise and would cause undo strain to our already extended staff compliment.”

Count on this media outlet to keep our audience up to speed on this case as it makes its way through the federal court system …

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at jenn@fitsnews.com.

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7 comments

SubZeroIQ March 3, 2024 at 4:34 pm

Nice to see you’re still around, Jen Wood.
Otherwise, you should not continue to refer to Alex Murdaugh (“AM”) as a convicted killer without indicating that his convictions are severely tainted and the taint grows wider and clearer with time.
I hope YOU, Jen Wood, PERSONALLY have the integrity of admitting, and repenting for, your role in spreading FALSE and pre-judicial pre-trial publicity and intra-trial publicity again AM, including how giddy you were with the “blood spatter” and the baseless and inapplicable “family annihilator” ideas.
But in this case, and in relationship to AM, the victims of the real killer(s) are dead. And even live victims of other SCDC inmates and alleged victims of “untried county safe-keepers” do NOT have to look if an SCDC inmate appears in the media.
Nor can SC move past a man wrongly convicted of two murders.
AM did NOT kill his wife or his younger son any more than Buster Murdaugh (“BM”) beat Stephen Smith (“SS”) to death with a baseball bat or Maggie Murdaugh (“MM”) killed Gloria Satterfield (“GS”) by pushing her down the seven front steps of the Moselle residence. The same liars put all those rumors out but succeeded only in FALSELY pinning two murders on AM. GS died IN HOSPITAL 24 day after having COINCIDENTALLY fallen at Moselle. GS was a chronic, poorly managed, diabetic and died of a documented heart attack IN HOSPITAL caused by her diabetes, not her fall at Moselle. The vehicular accident which killed SS has been investigated more than the one which killed Princess Diana. So far, THREE forensic pathologists have INDEPENDENTLY CONFIRMED that SS died of motor vehicle versus pedestrian collision.
In my VERY learned opinion, it was a suicide disguised by SS for his family to collect something. Why else would a teenage prostitute who was failing his middling nursing school classes and unable to blackmail richer older males walk in the middle of the road at night?
And Paul and Maggie Murdaugh could not possibly have died as early as the Prosecution claimed. The victims would not have had so little food in their stomachs, and the food would not have been so digested had they died only 15-20 minutes after finishing dinner.
Also, AM’s T-shirt was “spattered” with the blood of the chicken he had extracted from Bubba-the-dog’s jaws but had NO blood or DNA from Paul.
Please review my comments elsewhere for more details.

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Avatar photo
VERITAS Top fan March 5, 2024 at 3:31 pm

Griff? Harpo? That you?

Reply
Debra Stevenson Top fan March 4, 2024 at 9:22 am

This person obviously did not consider ALL the evidence! He is guilty as HELL! Our court system got it right, deal with it!

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Debra Stevenson Top fan March 4, 2024 at 9:25 am

My name is chip stevenson and I wrote the above statement, it shows Debra stevenson, but I am solely responsible for the above statement!

Reply
River1187 Top fan March 4, 2024 at 6:02 pm

The media should stop obsessing over criminals, particularly those who commit violent crimes against people. Try reporting on something good for a change.

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Terminator44 Top fan March 5, 2024 at 1:00 pm

Hey “Subzero”, maybe you can get with OJ and hire the same people that he hired – and together you can find the “real killers” of Maggie and Paw Paw? Get a life, moron!

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SubZeroIQ March 5, 2024 at 6:44 pm

Terminator44, going by the OBJECTIVE evidence, an Orange County, Ca, jury WRONGLY ACQUITTED O.J. Simpson; and a Colleton County, SC, jury WRONGLY CONVICTED Alexander Murdaugh.
That goes to show you a jury can get it wrong in either direction.
Because there is no appeal by the Prosecution from a jury acquittal, we all have to swallow O.J. Simpson’s acquittal as a price for the Constitution to work and let O.J. Simpson get justice against him some other way, which he did in serving time for assault and some other separate convictions.
Thank God, though, a convicted criminal defendant has three avenues of review of his conviction: state direct appeals, state post-conviction relief, and federal habeas corpus. I am NOT a lawyer, though.
What I call a life is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, healing the sick, visiting the prisoner and teaching the ignorant.
The life YOU chose is insulting people just because you can.
All I can do for you is forgive you BUT ONLY IF you repent.

Reply

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