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Ab1270 California State Prisons Media Access Fact Sheet for 2011-2012 State Budget

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Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, 13th Assembly District
AB 1270 – California State Prisons: Media Access
Assembly Bill 1270 seeks to restore the media’s
ability to conduct pre-arranged in-person interviews
with specific prison inmates under the discretion of
the California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation (CDCR). It would allow the media to
provide more balanced information about our prison
systems to keep the public informed and our
institutions both transparent and accountable.
The 2011-2012 state budget allocates $9.2 billion in
taxpayer money to CDCR, yet public information
regarding our prisons is limited by CDCR’s
restrictive media regulations. Media representatives
can only conduct random interviews with a pool of
inmates pre-selected by the CDCR under current
regulations. In-person, pre-arranged interviews with
a specific inmate are only allowed if the media
representative is an approved visitor, in which case
they must come at regular visitation hours and are
prohibited from using any electronic recording
devices or cameras. Consenting inmates with
telephone privileges may engage in recorded
interviews with a media representative but
conversations are limited to 15 minutes.
Media is even more restricted access to the most
controversial correctional facilities such as the
secure housing units (SHU). Inmates detained in the
SHU are kept in total isolation without any visitation
and telephone privileges. These units have been
heavily critiqued for confining inmates in small
concrete cells for 23 hours of the day without any
contact for up to several months or even years,
conditions that have been shown to exacerbate
mental illness.
Although SHUs house only 5% of the inmate
population, the 2005 bi-partisan congressional
Commission on Safety and Abuse in American
Prisons reported that 70% of all California’s inmate
suicides occurred within this population. Without a
balanced depiction of the situation, it is impossible
for the public to fully understand and address
potential issues within our correctional facilities.

This bill enables media representatives to request
specific in-person inmate interviews and requires
CDCR to respond to requests within a 48 hour
period. The department would still retain discretion
over all media requests, including the ability to
deny requests that pose any safety risks to the
institution, staff, or a member of the public. Any
responses denying a request must be accompanied
with a written explanation for the request denial.
Crime victims and their families would be notified
of the approved interview at least two days prior to
the date of the interview and inmates would be
protected from any acts of retaliation by CDCR for
speaking with a media representative.
Media representatives were allowed to request
interviews with specific inmates for over two
decades prior to 1996, when the change was made
through an emergency internal regulation.
American Civil Liberties Union of California
California Attorneys for Criminal Justice
California Broadcasters Association
California Correctional Peace Officers Association
California Families to Abolish Solitary
California Newspaper Publishers Association
California Public Defenders Association
Californians United for a Responsible Budget
Drug Policy Alliance
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Fair Chance Project
Friends Committee on Legislation of California
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
Pacific Media Workers Guild
Cecilia Tran, Assembly Fellow
Office of Assemblymember Ammiano