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Governor vetoes bill to allow journalists access to state prisons

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    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Newsgathering         Oct 2, 2000    

Governor vetoes bill to allow journalists access to state prisons

  • For the second straight year, Gov. Gray Davis has framed the issue of media access to prisons as a misguided attempt to “expand” the rights of prisoners.

Gov. Gray Davis has for the second year in a row vetoed a bill that would increase the access journalists have to face-to-face interviews with prison inmates.

The bill, A.B. 2101, had garnered bipartisan support in the legislature and this recent defeat marks the third time such legislation has failed to win executive approval, including a veto by Davis’s predecessor, Pete Wilson.

Peter Sussman, former chapter president of the Society of Professional Journalists and an advocate for greater prison access, was disappointed, but not surprised by the veto.

“I’ve worked for years to correct a glaring injustice and I’m deeply frustrated that this governor would refuse to sign a bill that three times has been passed by bipartisan votes in the California legislature,” Sussman said.

In his message to the Assembly, Davis said the bill would have provided “virtually unlimited access to convicted felons” and was “inconsistent with the national trend to reduce, not expand, the rights of prisoners.” He also defended his veto by saying that journalists have ample opportunity to interview convicts during regular visiting hours and through telephone interviews.

“AB 2101 is based on the false premise that press interviews with inmates are banned,” Davis wrote. “The press can either visit inmates during regular visiting periods, or receive collect calls from inmates. These are the same rights provided to the inmate’s family and friends.”

Sussman disagreed with the governor’s assessment and said the current policy prohibits journalists from using writing materials, tape recorders or cameras when meeting with prisoners. Sussman also said not all inmates are granted visiting rights and journalists must often wait several months before they are included in an inmate’s visitation schedule.

Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), who introduced the bill, was out of the country and unavailable for comment. A spokesperson said she was disappointed and still believes strongly in the issue of prison access.

Until 1995, the state had allowed face-to-face interviews with specified prisoners for more than 20 years.

Supporters of the bill said a legislative override of the veto is highly unlikely since the legislature has already adjourned and would have to be called back for an emergency session.

(A.B. 2101) LR

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© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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