SC jail stops publishing mug shots

The StateFox 5 AtlantaWLTX

The Richland County Jail in South Carolina has stopped publishing mug shot arrest photos after learning that a website was posting the photos and then charging $400 to have the images removed.

Some of those having to pay the hefty fee were clients of Seth Rose, a Richland County Councilman and local defense attorney.

"I just think there are ethical concerns," Rose told WLTX in Columbia, South Carolina. "I think this should be against the law."

With more than 9,000 booking photos, the Richland County Jail has the state’s second largest photo database, reports R. Darren Price for The State. The newspaper said “calls itself the ‘Google of mugshots’ and features more than eight million booking photos gathered from jails and prisons in 46 states, including South Carolina.”

Poynter reported last month on the impact these websites are having on journalism. A legislator in the neighboring state of Georgia said he planned to introduce a bill in January prohibiting websites from posting mug shot photos and then charging to remove them. The legislation seeks to stop websites from “profiting and turning somebody's bad day into the day that never ends,” Fox 5 reported this week.

Richland County Jail administrators said they would still honor media requests for access to the booking photos. Official news organizations now have to email the jail directly requesting individual mug shots. Jail personnel were supposed to meet this week to discuss a long-term solution that will not curtail public and media access to important information.

"We definitely don't want these sites to have access," Richland County Spokesperson Stephany Snowden told WLTX. "When people are arrested, they are innocent until proven guilty and it seems these unscrupulous sites are making them guilty."

South Carolina law does not require local governments and jails to provide public access to photos, but media access remains the city's primary concern, Snowden, a former TV and newspaper reporter, told Poynter by phone.

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    Tracie Powell

    Tracie Powell is a senior fellow for Democracy Fund, a bipartisan foundation established by eBay founder-philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to help ensure that Americans come first in our democracy. Tracie is also founder of AllDigitocracy which focuses on media and its impact on diverse communities. 


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