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.
“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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.