CA Gov. Jerry Brown signs bills last minute; opposes media access to prisoners

California Governor Jerry Brown waited until the last minute to get to a pile of dozens of legislative bills on Sunday that he had been avoiding. Among them were the prison media access bill, AB1270, which was proposed by State Assemblyperson Tom Ammiano. The bill, if passed, would have given reporters access to prisoners unless granting the interview would pose “an immediate and direct threat”, as decided by the prison warden. Brown shut the bill down on Sunday, saying that it went “too far” and that “this standard is too high”. He went on:

“Furthermore, giving criminals celebrity status through repeated appearances on television will glorify their crimes and hurt victims and their families… I agree that too little media access may be harmful, but too much can be as well. This bill gives too much.”

The bill would have allowed media requests to interview specific prisoners, requests for follow-up interviews and would have protected prisoners against reprisals for what is said in interviews.

Tom Ammiano on Monday responded to Brown’s “celebrity status” comment:

“Press access isn’t just to sell newspapers. It’s a way for the public to know that the prisons it pays for are well-run. The CDCR’s unwillingness to be transparent is part of what has led to court orders on prison health care and overcrowding. We should know when the California prisons aren’t being well run before it goes to court. I invite the Governor to visit the SHU to see for himself why media access is so important.”

Click HERE for Governor Brown’s full message, denying prisoners access to interviews unless prison wardens go out of their way to support prisoners (as in the case of Johannes Mehserle, the cop who was given special privileges after being minimally sentenced for the killing of Oscar Grant).

Among other bills in the last-minute piles on Brown’s desk, was Senate Bill 9, which the governor signed supportively. The bill will allow prisoners who were sentenced to life-without-parole as juveniles to ask judges to reconsider their sentences after they serve at least 15 years in prison.

There are 309 prisoners serving life-without-parole sentences in California for murders committed when they were younger than 18.

ImageWe also think it’s important to mention that just a few days before the governor got around to signing dozens of last minute bills on Sunday, he signed AB2530, a law that will make it illegal for women to be shackled during pregnancy “unless deemed necessary for the safety and security of the inmate, the staff, or the public”. It’s important to note that the law reflects treatment of imprisoned women at any stage of pregnancy, beyond shackling laws that only come into effect while a pregnant woman is going into labor.

A letter from Karen Shain at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children celebrates the bills passage, with a few caveats:

At last! We have an answer for the pregnant women who write to Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) about having to wear chains around their bellies while going to court, about being shackled around their ankles while waiting to see a doctor, about standing in countless lines waiting to get on countless buses while handcuffed behind their backs: You are right. This is illegal. You should not be restrained in these ways if you are incarcerated in California.

I can’t wait to visit pregnant women at California Institution for Women (CIW) or one of our 58 county jails. We can rejoice together that this long, long battle has been won!…

And then, after all the celebrating, after all the thank you notes, after the tears of joy and slaps on our collective backs … then we have to get to work.

Because I have learned one really important lesson over the past decade that I have been doing legislative policy work: A good bill is only as good as its implementation. It took over five years for California’s counties to begin writing policies to conform to state law banning shackling of women during labor, delivery and recovery (see LSPC’s report, “Stop Shackling”). We must not allow county sheriffs, juvenile probation officers or state prison officials to wait five more years before shackling becomes only a memory in our state.

As of Jan. 1, 2013, this is what the new law will be: NO PREGNANT WOMAN in California’s prisons, youth authority, county jails or juvenile detention facilities can be shackled around the belly, around the ankles or handcuffed behind the back DURING HER ENTIRE PREGNANCY. And once a woman is in labor, delivery or recovery – OR IF A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL ORDERS IT – she cannot be restrained at all, provided that there is not a pressing security issue.

For more specifics about AB2530, there’s a good Question & Answer piece about the (un)shackling bill HERE.

3 thoughts on “CA Gov. Jerry Brown signs bills last minute; opposes media access to prisoners

  1. Pingback: Critical Mass Progress | CI: Cruel and All Too Usual

  2. I called Gov.Brown office Gov. Brown office number is (916) 445-2841
    and gave my disappointment that he did not sign AB 1270.The representative took the message and said he could reconsider it for next year with more limits for the prisoners and media.(that is if it is even brought back) And to contact State Assemblyperson Tom Ammiano also in regard to this.State Capitol
    P.O. Box 942849
    Sacramento, CA 94249-0013
    Tel: (916) 319-2013
    Fax: (916) 319-2113
    District Office:
    455 Golden Gate Avenue,
    Suite 14300
    San Francisco, CA 94102
    Phone (415) 557-3013
    Fax (415) 557-3015
    Brown needs to see that it’s wrong to suppress what is going on within the prison system and that it does not need to be modified in that way,that the public wants the truths to be known without limitations put on information.The inmates are the one’s that have to tell what is going on,unless they would rather have the general public have access to with the reporters,media also,that’s an idea.
    It is the public that pays for these people to be incarcerated and pays those to limit and keep them bound up in that warped system.We should have some rights too here on the outside about those on the inside! So call,write in the mean while so next time he will sign it,next year! Maybe next year the modifications could include some public,groups and organizations occupany,join with the media access,this will help the public even more with the reform needed!This is the people for the people.
    Gov.Brown office number is (916) 445-2841

  3. My correction in spelling typo to clarify meaning in too,not to:
    The inmates are the one’s that have to tell what is going on,unless they would rather have the general public have access too with the reporters,media also,that’s an idea.

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