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Ammiano decries Gov. Brown’s veto of media access to prisoners

October 1, 2012

by Wendy Rae Hill

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

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, chair of Public Safety Committee, speaks at a rally prior to the historic hearing he held Aug. 23, 2011, on solitary confinement and the hunger strike aimed at ending it.
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 (Security Housing Unit) to see for himself why media access is so important.”

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.

“People need to know what happens in our prisons. While Gov. 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 Gov. Brown to continue to restrict media access in our prisons. It begs the question, what doesn’t he want the public to see?” says Emily Harris, statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget.

Gov. Jerry Brown waited until the last minute to veto the bill to reopen media access to prisoners and several other bills of great significance to Black and Brown communities. “Giving criminals celebrity status through repeated appearances on television will glorify their crimes and hurt victims and their families,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “The cost of implementing and monitoring this expansive new level of access should not be imposed at a time when prison budgets are being cut.”
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 and conduct follow-up interviews and would have protected prisoners against reprisals for what is said in interviews.

“It is the wrong move for Gov. Brown to continue to restrict media access in our prisons. It begs the question, what doesn’t he want the public to see?” says Emily Harris, statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget.

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.

Wendy Rae Hill is senior legislative aide to Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. She can be reached by mail at Office of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0013, by phone at (916) 319-2013 or by email at wendy.hill@asm.ca.gov.

 

4 thoughts on “Ammiano decries Gov. Brown’s veto of media access to prisoners

  1. Ann_Garrison

    In 2010, the California Green Party ran one of our best, Laura Wells, for governor. Laura ran for Controller in 2002 and got more votes than any Green has yet in a statewide race, so we ran her for governor and I think she wants to run for Controller again in 2014.

    This Brown veto is one of many absolute disgraces that makes me ask, "What will it take to make people give up on the two-party system?" Greens don't take contributions from corporations, or from the California Correctional Peace Officers Union.

    Reply
  2. B Cayenne Bird

    My First Amendment Rights were horribly violated when I visited Sierra Conservation Center on September 2 by prison guards Tracy Brown, D. Alfaro, and E. Vazquez. I have been a journalist for 45 years and never received such degrading and humiliating treatment in my life. This article appeared in 40 different internet magazines http://www.examiner.com/article/veteran-op-ed-wri

    The wardens, guards and administrators have been literally getting away with torture and murder and they ignore the laws, the cost of thousands of lawsuits and my colleagues who are journalists need to keep Jerry Brown from getting elected again. He is the person who passed the original determinate sentencing laws that resulted in these overcrowded bloodhouses in the first place.

    Reply

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