TRENTON, N.J. – A corrections department officer was wrong when he demanded that an Associated Press reporter delete a photograph of prison inmates working at the statehouse, and all staffers will be reminded of the proper policy, the department said on Thursday.
The officer demanded that AP reporter Michael Catalini delete a photo, taken in a public part of the statehouse on Tuesday, showing prison inmates moving furniture as part of a $300 million renovation project.
The officer escorted the reporter into a state police office at the statehouse and asked a trooper to demand that the photo be deleted, but the reporter later restored the photo from a deleted-items folder and the AP published it.
Department of Corrections spokesman Matt Schuman said that the officer misunderstood a department policy, which says inmates can't be photographed in corrections facilities unless they've signed a consent form but doesn't govern photos taken in public.
"The incident that took place on June 27 at the State House occurred due to the fact that the officer who was supervising the (inmates) was under the mistaken impression that the policy also applies to public forums," Schuman said. "In light of this confusion, we will remind our staff how and when the policy should be enforced."
Schuman's response came a day after AP New Jersey News Editor Josh Cornfield sent a letter to Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan protesting the officer "violating fundamental tenets of press freedom" and requesting the agency "ensure that DOC employees are properly trained in the basic First Amendment rights of citizens and media to ensure that such tactics are not employed in the future."
Reached late Thursday, state police spokesman Capt. Brian Polite said the department was looking into what happened.
Schuman said Tuesday the inmates were working as part of the state's DEPTCOR program, which allows towns and state agencies to use inmate labor for projects. The program's website says it employees 900 incarcerated men and women across the state. The inmates are voluntarily assigned to projects to develop usable skills.
Schuman said the minimum security inmates will move the furniture, refurbish it and move it back when the renovation is complete.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie commissioned the renovation, citing the building's state of poor repair.