Senate Passes Prison Media Access Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 30, 2012

Contacts: Carlos Alcalá, Communications Director (916) 319-2013 or (916) 698-0243 cell
Emily Harris, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, (510) 435-1176

Sacramento – The California Senate passed AB 1270 by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano yesterday, sending the bill on prison media openness to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature. The bill would restore the conditions that existed before 1996, the year that state corrections officials cut down on reporters’ ability to report directly on prison circumstances.

“We’re not just worried about reporters,” Ammiano said. “The lack of good information is also a danger to the prisoners, the employees and the public at large. It was under these closed-door conditions that prison health conditions deteriorated to the point that the courts stepped in. When it comes to prisons, what we don’t know can really hurt us.”

“California’s prisons are notoriously off-limits to the kind of scrutiny that is routine for most public agencies,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in a recent editorial. The bill deserves the Governor’s signature, The Times wrote.

Under current procedures used by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, journalists cannot request interviews with a particular prisoner to investigate conditions in the taxpayer funded facilities. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to investigate any events, such as the 2011 hunger strike in prisons.

Moreover, though, reporters may interview people in prisons who are selected by prison officials, there is no way to conduct follow-up interviews to those encounters, nor is there a way to check whether a prisoner has suffered any repercussions as a result of interviews.

“I hope that Governor Brown understands that lifting the media ban from our prisons can help victims like myself know what’s going on behind prison walls, improve conditions of confinement and save tax payers money. We need to let the light in,” said Shirley Wilson from the Youth Justice Coalition in Los Angeles. Wilson’s son was murdered and she now volunteers with youth who are at risk of being locked up.

“The public has the right to know how our tax dollars are being spent inside prisons,” said Jerry Elster, an organizer with All of Us or None. “If the state officials have nothing to hide then what’s the problem with reporters having more access to people in prison?”

“With passage of AB 1270 legislators have voted for transparent and accountable reporting of the state’s 32 prisons and the more than 130,000 prisoners locked inside their walls,” said Nancy Mullane, a prize-winning reporter and author on prisons. “With the governor’s signature, no longer will professional, credentialed, hard-working journalists be forced to interview whichever inmate the prison authorities make available to them. For the first time in more than two decades, journalists will be permitted by law to request an interview with an inmate by name.”

Following passage, the Governor has until September 30 to sign the measure.

The bill is supported by the California Catholic Conference, the American Civil Liberties Union, the California Newspaper Publisher Association, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Correctional Peace Officers Association and more than 20 other groups. It is sponsored by Californians United for a Responsible Budget, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, the Center for Young Women’s Development, the Friends Committee on Legislation of California and the Youth Justice Coalition.

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