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Governor vetoes prison access bill

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    News Media Update         CALIFORNIA         Newsgathering    

Governor vetoes prison access bill

  • A bill to give journalists more access to prisoners in California was rejected by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday.

Oct. 1, 2004 — Citing reservations about giving California prisoners celebrity status, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have required the California Department of Corrections to allow reporters to interview prisoners in person and to prearrange interviews with specific prisoners in the state’s 32 prisons.

Schwarzenegger followed his Republican and Democrat gubernatorial predecessors in opposing the bill, introduced by Sen. Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat.

“Today the Governor reneged on his promise to bring transparency to California’s Correctional System, which we know is plagued by abuse and scandal,” Romero said Thursday in Sacramento. “Will it take the kind of scandals seen at Abu Ghraib to open our institutions for public scrutiny?”

In his veto statement, Schwarzenegger wrote it is important to “avoid treating inmates as celebrities.”

“Activities that would glamorize criminals at the expense of victims and the general public are unacceptable,” he wrote.

The governor also called the bill “unnecessary” because the media already enjoys “wide-ranging access to both prisons and inmates, including the right to interview random inmates during tours and specific inmates during the visitation program.”

Romero, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on California’s Correctional System, wrote in a column for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California that news reporters are “shackled” by the current policy.

“As a result, many newspapers have mostly abandoned trying to cover California prisons, according to the Society of Professional Journalists,” she wrote. “The public has a right and a duty to know about the operations and conditions of confinement in our prisons.”

The measure, Senate Bill 1164, was co-sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association and the ACLU. (In California, private individuals and groups can co-sponsor legislation.) The measure was the fourth legislative attempt to reverse the state’s current rules, according to Romero’s office.

(S.B. 1164) CB

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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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