A new bill would restore media access to California prisons


The news media may be permitted to visit and interview individuals imprisoned in California prisons and jails for the first time since the mid-1990s, under a bill introduced by state Sen. Nancy Skinner.

The news media plays a vital role in providing information to the public and policymakers about how our government operates. California used to allow the news media much greater access to state prisons, enabling us to learn more about prison conditions. But for the past three decades, California prisons have been among the least transparent in the nation. SB 254 will reopen access so we can collect more — and better — information about how one of our largest state programs functions, Skinner said in a statement.

SB 254, sponsored by the California Broadcasters Association and the California News Publishers Association, would also allow state legislators and other state officials access to prisons “in order to allow policymakers with the information they need for effective oversight,” Skinner said.

The news media had greater access to the conditions in state prisons until 1994 when then-Gov. Pete Wilson and the legislature gave the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation the power to restrict access. In 1996, regulations got even more draconian, until they were “some of the strictest” in the country, and remained in effect until today, “blocking most news coverage of prison operations,” according to Skinner.

Between 1998 and 2012, nine separate bills were approved that would override media restrictions and allow access, but each one was vetoed by Govs. Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Brown.

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