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Senate Committee on Public Safety votes to lift the media access ban on California prisons

June 12, 2012

Community members from around state rally at capitol to call for transparency in $9.2 billion prison system

by Californians United for a Responsible Budget

This censored pelican symbolizes the secrecy cloaking the torture imposed on prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU, where last year’s hunger strike originated. The media is barred from speaking to them, and many prisoners are allowed no visitors at all. – Drawing: Pete Collins, imprisoned at Bath Prison, Ontario, Canada
Sacramento – Today, residents throughout the state celebrate as AB1270, a bill to lift the media access ban in California prisons, passed the Senate Committee on Public Safety in a 4-2 vote. AB1270 will now go to a vote in Senate Appropriations. A rally on the north steps of the Capitol was held at noon as calls for transparency in California’s troubled prison system spread. Since 1996, media have been prohibited from choosing their interview subjects inside prisons, and nine versions of this bill have been vetoed by three different governors.

Supporters of AB1270 note that the Supreme Court ruling on overcrowding and unconstitutional medical and mental health conditions and last year’s massive prisoner hunger strike demonstrate the need for California taxpayers to have full information about what goes on inside California’s prisons. Testifying on behalf of the bill, a spokesperson for the California Newspaper Publishers Association said: “With the scrutiny and limited resources now being directed to prison facilities, this bill could not be any more timely … Most newspapers have forgone these beats … because there are so many limitations. It’s very difficult for reporters to get in and do their jobs.” A steady stream of supporters from dozens of organizations throughout the state added “me too’s” to the bill.

“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,” says Daletha Hayden, member of California Families Against Solitary Confinement and mother of a SHU prisoner. “People in prison have human rights, and we need a watchdog to make sure those rights are being honored. In light of the hunger strike, it is imperative that we have transparency about what’s going on.”

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, sponsored the bill, citing the need for more transparency and public accountability from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). “Independent media access to prisoners is critical for ensuring transparency and accountability,” said Ammiano. “Despite the thousands of prisoners who participated in a statewide hunger strike last year over conditions in the prisons, it was near impossible to get unbiased information about what was happening due to these restrictions. Today’s vote is an important step towards providing the public with balanced and necessary information about our prisons.”

“Despite the thousands of prisoners who participated in a statewide hunger strike last year over conditions in the prisons, it was near impossible to get unbiased information about what was happening due to these restrictions,” said Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, sponsor of the bill approved today, which would restore the media’s access to pre-arranged, in-person interviews with specific prisoners.

AB 1270 is supported by Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Broadcasters Association, California Public Defenders Association, American Civil Liberties Union of California, California Newspaper Publishers Association, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement, Drug Policy Alliance, Fair Chance Project, Friends Committee on Legislation of California, Pacific Media Workers Guild, Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California, Justice Ministry Team of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Latino Journalists of California, Lifers’ Education Fund, Media Alliance, National Radio Project’s Making Contact, Pacifica Foundation, Progressive Christians Uniting, Conservatives for Social Change, Radio Television Digital News Association, Other Death Penalty Project, Transgender Gender-Variant and Intersex Justice, Center for Constitutional Rights, Center for Juvenile Law and Policy, Critical Resistance, Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, Los Angeles Community Action Network, National Juvenile Justice Network, Office of Restorative Justice of the Archdiocese of Los Angles, and the California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, which includes prison guards and parole officers.

To reach Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), email Statewide Coordinator Emily Harris at emily@curbprisonspending.org, write CURB, 1322 Webster St., Suite 210, Oakland, CA 94612, call (510) 435-1176, visit Californians United for a Responsible Budget and follow her at twitter.com/CURB_Prisons.

 

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