Assemblymember Ammiano Criticizes Governor’s veto of prison media access bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 1, 2012

Contact: Carlos Acala, 916-319-2013

Sacramento – Assemblymember Tom Ammiano decried Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto yesterday of legislation that would have returned openness to California’s prison system.

Ammiano’s bill, AB 1270, would have restored, not expanded as noted in the veto message, media access to the level that existed in 1996 when the California Department of Corrections clamped down on the press’ ability to interview specific prisoners. The Governor’s veto aligns him with his predecessors, who vetoed eight other versions of the media access bill.

“Press access isn’t just to sell newspapers. It’s a way for the public to know that the prisons it pays for are well-run,” Ammiano said. “The CDCR’s unwillingness to be transparent is part of what has led to court orders on prison health care and overcrowding. We should know when the California prisons aren’t being well run before it goes to court. I invite the Governor to visit the SHU [special housing unit/solitary confinement] to see for himself why media access is so important.”

“People need to know what happens in our prisons, while Governor Brown has been in office thousands of people have gone on hunger strike, and the Supreme Court intervened to address severe overcrowding and medical neglect. It is the wrong move for Governor Brown to continue to restrict media access in our prisons, it begs the questions what doesn’t he want the public to see?” Asks Emily Harris, Statewide Coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget.

Although reporters have some access to prisoners, the strict control exerted by CDCR effectively prevents reporters from thorough reporting of conditions and treatment of individual prisoners. In order to conduct an interview with a particular prisoner, journalists have to:

  • act as prison visitors, in which case the prisoner must make the request first, or as paralegals accompanying attorneys.
  • request to visit particular areas of prisons, where they could hope to find a given prisoner.
  • receive phone calls from prisoners, which are of limited duration and interrupted by recorded announcements.

The bill would have allowed media requests to interview specific prisoners, requests for follow-up interviews and would have protected prisoners against reprisals for what is said in interviews.

Ammiano vows to continue working with openness advocates in the future to try to enact legislation that will bring light back to the prison system.

Bill supporters have included journalism organizations, like the California Newspaper Publishers Association, prison wardens and the California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association. The bill was 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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