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Will prisons ever open up to journalists?

Many states make it extremely difficult for journalists to visit their prisons, interview inmates and report with any regularity or authority on what goes on inside America’s prison system.

Take the case of Illinois.

In March, after hearing reports of black mold, insect and vermin infestations, and busted-out windows in Vienna Correctional Center, a minimum-security prison in the southernmost tip of Illinois, criminal justice and courts reporter Rob Wildeboer of Public Radio station WBEZ in Chicago began trying to arrange a tour of the facility.

His request was denied by the Illinois Department of Corrections’ public information officer, the commissioner of the department and even the governor’s office. He reported on his efforts regularly in an effort to exert pressure on the state, but to no avail.

“It isn’t Club Med,” Illinois Governor Pat Quinn told reporters. “Prisons are not country clubs. They’re not there to be visited, and looked at, and toured by this, that and the other.”

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