"We have a right to know what goes on behind Prison Walls"

This post is based on a press release from the office of Assemblymember Tom Ammiano.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s bill (D-San Francisco) to restore media access to prisoners, AB 1270, passed the California Assembly today. 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.

“Independent media access to prison inmates is a critical part of keeping our prisons transparent and accountable while providing information to the public,” said Ammiano. “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. 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 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 dollars of taxpayer’s money. The bill passed unanimously in the Assembly Public Safety Committee on January 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.”

"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,” said Sumayyah Waheed, Campaign Director for the Books Not Bars program of the Ella Baker Center.

“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.”

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.

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