Bill on media access to prisoners advances

The Assembly voted 47-22 today to pass a Bay Area lawmaker’s bill that would lift the ban on media interviews with specific inmates in California’s prisons.

Since the ban on pre-arranged inmate interviews went into effect in 1996, bill author Tom Ammiano noted, eight versions of this bill have been vetoed by three governors.

“Independent media access to prison inmates is a critical part of keeping our prisons transparent and accountable while providing information to the public,” Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said in a news release.

“Despite the thousands of prisoners who participated in a state-wide 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,” he said. “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.”

Ammiano said he’s carrying AB 1270 to increase transparency and public accountability from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which has a $9.2 billion budget.

Sumayyah Waheed, campaign director for the Books Not Bars program of the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, said in Ammiano’s release that prisons tend to be out-of-sight, out-of-mind for anyone not directly impacted by them. “That’s a recipe for rampant abuse, which is too often the story inside prisons. As taxpayers, we have a right to know what goes on behind prison walls. This bill offers a much-needed step forward in making prisons accountable to the public.”

Full disclosure: The California Newspaper Publishers Association (of which my employer is a member) and the Pacific Media Workers Guild (of which I’m a member) among this bill’s supporters, as is the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and an array of civil-rights groups. There’s no registered opposition to it, according to an Assembly committee analysis from last week.

Still, three Democrats – Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata; Alyson Huber, D-El Dorado Hills; and Norma Torres, D-Pomona – crossed the aisle to vote with most Republicans against the bill. The only Republican who voted for it was Steve Knight, R-Palmdale. And 11 members – four Democrats and seven Republicans – didn’t vote.

The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Cynthia Islas

    Great, another inmate loving bill. How about if you get our budget straight, create some jobs and help CA’s economy before molly coddleing more inmates? This is a ridiculous bill. Have you not ever sat in on a trial? Or been in an institution? Inmates are not truthful people, which is how they got where they are. Quit wasting taxpayer money.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    We love our convicts. Maybe TA can spend some time Up Close in a cell for a few days with a misunderstood sex offender.

  • Okay, so California legislators think it’s okay to push through an AMENDED bill that started out as last year as a law pertaining to Law Enforcement Citizen Review Committees, then gut it and replace with this new law without going through the normal waiting periods? Then claim no opposition? What a crock! Granted there are a couple Victims groups in Sacramento should have been on the lookout for this sneaky legislative tactic before it was voted on – but the average person or crime victim advocate would have no way of knowing this was in the works until it was too late. This type of legislative dishonesty needs to stop!!!

  • Helen Gregorio

    All of this attention on the prisoners and what about the victims don’t they need more media attention. Maybe they should go on hunger strikes! You need to priortize and put the victims of crime first.

  • When we as a civilized nation of people say we do not care how you treat prisoners we become no better than the worst predator, using power, access, and isolation to commit horrendous crimes. Every inmate is not a murderer or rapist. There are various crimes which justify a prison sentence. Have we moved so far from decency that we justify protecting those who abuse power as workers in the prisons? The media has a responsibility to give us the real deal news not just what we want to hear. Contrary to what some believe there is staff corruption

  • I do not advocate babying an inmate but the consequence of their crime is prison. Incarceration is the punishment but how do we preach rehabilitation when we allow inmates to be abused at will? No wonder the rate of inmate return is high. We get what we create. Feed a man hate and violence and we get the same upon his release. Yes, its hard to stomach some of the crimes these men have committed. But, without the media having access to them, we are blindly paying taxes for an entity that may not be working.

  • As far as inmate loving, asking the families of those who have brothers or fathers who went in for nonviolent crimes but, came out full of rage by a system that sentenced them to not only jail but, placed them in a system where abuse occurred. Not always the hands of the staff. Some accountability needs to occur and what better persons then unbiased individuals such as lawyers and the media? We have got to quit pretending it is alright to allow abuse of any member of our society even the worse of the worse. What happened to rehabilitation?

  • Elwood

    Here is something I learned in prison. (I worked there and went home every night.)

    Life’s a bitch

    Then you die

  • Truthclubber


    “I worked (in a prison).”

    That explains so much about your rabid love of fascism (rule by the corporatists) and your utter and complete disdain for the poorest of our community…

  • John W.

    They let Elwood go home at night? Good grief! Talk about high risk!

    In college, I spent a couple of days in a max security prison in Michigan as part of somebody’s research project. Interviewed inmates by day and stayed in a cell by night. All I remember is being kept awake by the toilets flushing all night and by other strange sounds. Whatever people did to earn their way into prison, I don’t know how they stand it. I also interviewed then federal Bureau of Prisons chief, Norm Carlson, in D.C. He talked a good rehab story. But it was just that, a story.

  • Elwood

    In the immortal words of Richard Nixon:

    “Screw the poor”

    Only he didn’t say screw.

  • Truthclubber


    Ah, what a kind, loving and compassionate Christian you are — I bet you go to church every single Sunday and think you are one of God’s chosen ones, don’t you?

    At least Nixon signed Title X — ensuring that no woman would be denied access to proper birth control materials (such as contraceptives) based on their lack of income — how’s that stack up against your fellow fascist, Rick Sanctamonious and his desire to keep women barefoot, pregnant (even if raped by their relative) and ultimately without the right to vote?

  • Elwood

    Ah, toothsucker, you’ve found me out!

    Yes, I AM a special agent of God and Rick Santorum is my disciple!

    And you’ve been in the cooking sherry again!