Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Public Safety passed a bill allowing journalists greater access to California's prison inmates. For the last 16 years, media representatives have been unable to interview specific inmates, instead being allowed to conduct random interviews with prisoners while walking through the yard -- and only if their request to gain access inside the state's prison received prior approval.
The Media Access bill was introduced last year by our very own Assemblyman, Tom Ammiano, who cited last year's statewide hunger strike
as part of the impetus for demanding greater transparency and accountability from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
According to the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity
website, more than 6,600 prisoners participated in the hunger strike, protesting the conditions of their imprisonment, specifically solitary confinement. Ammiano points out that despite the magnitude of the hunger strike, unbiased information about the strike was notably absent because of the media ban.
But this bill would allow reporters to set up prearranged interviews
with specified inmates and use pens, paper, audio, and video recording
devices to get the full story. The bill also specifies that inmates cannot be punished or
retaliated against because of their participation in an interview.
Supporters of the bill stress the importance of transparency in the California prison system, which has a track record of overcrowding and maltreatment
, as shown by the Supreme Court's ruling that medical and mental health treatment violations were unconstitutional.
Without media access, there is little recourse for taxpayers to learn about what is happening inside prison walls. After passing the Public Safety Committee by a 4-2 vote, the bill is now slated for a vote in Senate Appropriations.
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