Prison Media Access Bill Leaves Appropriations, to Full Senate

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 16, 2012

Contacts: Carlos Alcalá, Communications Director, Assemblymember Ammiano (916) 319-2013
Emily Harris, Californians United for a Responsible Budget (510) 435-1176

SACRAMENTO—Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s AB 1270, a bill to lift the media access ban in California prisons left the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 5-2 vote today and will be taken up by the full Senate. The bill would restore the media’s ability to conduct pre-arranged, in-person interviews with specific prisoners. Since 1996, media have been prohibited from choosing their interview subjects inside prisons. Eight versions of this bill have been passed and vetoed by previous governors.

“Democracy depends on freedom of information, and that means complete information about all our public institutions,” Ammiano said. “The lack of transparency jeopardizes the safety of prisoners, prison workers and the public outside.”

The Supreme Court ruling on overcrowding and unconstitutional prison health conditions, and the 2011 prisoner hunger strike underscore the need for California taxpayers to have information about what goes on inside our prisons.

Without reporters having the ability to interview specific prisoners, it is nearly impossible to report on news events in prisons, or to do in-depth stories with continuity.

“Not only are reporters prohibited from requesting an initial interview with a specific inmate by name or California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation number, they are also prohibited from asking for a follow-up interview with an inmate they might have interviewed while on a previous “random” press visit,” wrote radio journalist and author Nancy Mullane in an op-ed in The Sacramento Bee Wednesday. “It’s time the press and the public knew what is happening inside our prisons.”

Opening up, within the reasonable limits included in the bill, does more than benefit journalists.

“We need to know how billions of dollars of our money is being spent and we need to know that people are treating each other with dignity and respect and providing proper healthcare,” said Daletha Hayden, member of California Families Against Solitary Confinement and mother of a SHU prisoner.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-SF) authored this bill in recognition of the need for more transparency and public accountability within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

“It’s time to restore the previous openness to California’s penal system,” Ammiano said, noting the measure has support from wardens and correctional officers. “I look forward to bringing this to the Senate where I am hopeful it will be approved as it has been many times before.”

Supporters have included journalism organizations, like the California Newspaper Publishers Association, prison wardens and the California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association. The bill is sponsored by Californians United for a Responsible Budget, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, the Friends Committee on Legislation, the Center for Young Women’s Development and the Youth Justice Coalition.

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