Sacramento: The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is formally opposing AB 1270 (Ammiano), legislation that would increase transparency and media access to California’s notorious state prison system, citing cost as their main concern.
“We do not share CDCR’s belief that increasing transparency in prison operations would have adverse budget consequences, as they suggested in their letter of opposition last week,” said Karen Shain, Policy Director for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and member organization of the grassroots coalition Californians United for a Responsible Budget which is sponsoring the bill. Shain continues, “Although CDCR claims that the media regulations are currently open enough, there are still glaring gaps that must be addressed to ensure that media can properly depict the conditions within our prisons. This begs the question of what CDCR has to hide.”
The bill would restore reporters ability to request interviews, including recorded interviews, with specific prisoners, as existed before 1996. Current policies prevent recorded interviews, except in brief phone calls, and hinder reporters’ ability to monitor prison conditions and CDCR’s expenditures of billions of tax dollars. The legislation requiring CDCR to respond to requests within a 48 hour period and would protect against any acts of retaliation by CDCR for speaking with the media. The bill is currently on suspense in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Past versions of this bill were always estimated to cost well below $150,000, the Senate Suspense file threshold. Previous analyses of identical bills showed these costs would be absorbable even if the current average of 200 interview requests per year increased five times.
“Although I understand that state agencies must be prudent with expenditures, this measure has historically had minor and absorbable costs. It is unfortunate that CDCR has presented this as the primary reason to oppose a much-needed sunshine measure that would strengthen institutional transparency and invite more public accountability.” stated Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and author of AB 1270 the most recent version of the bill to gain more media access in state facilitates.
Several versions of the bill have passed the legislature; Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the most recent version in 2006. The current bill was introduced after reporters were denied access to prisoners on hunger strike in Pelican Bay’s Segregated Housing Unit last summer. The bill has already passed the Assembly 47 to 22, and the Senate Public Safety committee last month.
AB 1270 is supported by: 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, Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California, Justice Ministry Team – Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Latino Journalists of California, Lifers’ Education Fund, Media Alliance, National Radio Project – Making Contact, Pacifica Foundation, Progressive Christians Uniting, Conservatives for Social Change, Radio Television Digital News Association, the Other Death Penalty Project, Transgender Gender-Variant & Intersex Justice, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Juvenile Law and Policy, Conservatives for Social Change, Critical Resistance, Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, Los Angeles Community Action Network, National Juvenile Justice Network, Office of Restorative Justice – Archdiocese of Los Angles, and the California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, which includes prison guards and parole officers.