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.
We 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.