by Quintin Mecke
Sacramento – The bill by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, to restore media access to prisoners, AB 1270, passed the California Assembly Jan. 26. The bill would remove restrictions on pre-arranged in-person interviews with specific prison inmates. Since these restrictions went into effect in 1996, eight versions of the bill have been vetoed by three different governors.
“Inmates kept in secure housing units (SHU) have no visitation or telephone privileges and information about their solitary confinement punishments are largely unknown to the public even though a disproportionate number of inmate suicides occur in the SHU.” – Assemblymember Tom Ammiano
Ammiano sponsored the bill citing the need for more transparency and public accountability from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), an institution that receives $9.2 billion of taxpayer’s money. The bill passed unanimously in the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Jan. 10.
Carol Strickman, staff attorney for Legal Services for Prisoner with Children and a mediator during last year’s state-wide prison hunger strikes, stated: “Over the years, including during last year’s hunger strike, LSPC has been contacted by many journalists who wanted to interview prisoners about prison conditions. The reporters are always disappointed to learn about the media ban. While LSPC does its best to inform reporters based on our experience, we are an inadequate substitute for someone presently incarcerated. The public would be better informed if reporters could interview prisoners directly.”
“If the only information the public gets is from the CDCR spokesperson, how can we really know what’s going on?” stated Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children. “What makes Pelican Bay any different than Guantanamo Bay? Public safety requires openness inside the prisons as well as out. Crime often happens in dark, hidden places. In regards to prisons we depend on journalists and the media to be the light.”
“What makes Pelican Bay any different than Guantanamo Bay? … In regards to prisons we depend on journalists and the media to be the light,” stated Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children.
The following organizations support the bill: 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 and the California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, which includes prison guards and parole officers.
Quintin Mecke is communications director for the Office of Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, 455 Golden Gate Ave., Suite 14300, San Francisco, CA 94102. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (415) 557-3013 or fax (415) 557-3015. The website is http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a13/.