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Prison interview bill leaps first legislative hurdle

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    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Press at Home & Abroad         Apr 7, 2000    

Prison interview bill leaps first legislative hurdle

  • A state assembly committee unanimously voted to approve a bill allowing interviews with prisoners, although a similar effort was vetoed last year.

The state assembly’s Committee on Public Safety unanimously voted in early April to allow news media interviews with California prison inmates.

The bill would overturn a restrictive prison policy that banned face-to-face interviews with prisoners.

The current bill is identical to one that passed through the California Legislature without a single vote against it in February 1999, but was later vetoed by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.

Davis said at the time that he believes state prison officials should not arrange interviews for reporters with inmates.

“This bill would give journalists preferential treatment by giving them greater access than even members of the prisoner’s own family,” he wrote in explaining his veto. “Moreover this bill is inconsistent with the national trend to reduce, not expand, rights of prisoners.”

Under the present prison policy, members of the news media may interview convicts during regular visitors hours, through collect phone calls placed by the inmate, or in written correspondence.

According to an Associated Press report, opponents expressed fear that media attention turns controversial prisoners into “celebrities” in the prisons. The bill’s sponsor, Carole Migdin (D-San Francisco), responded that “the bill’s purpose was not to glorify prisoners but to restore face-to-face interview procedures that had worked successfully for more than 20 years before being unilaterally eliminated by the Department of Corrections.”

The bill continues to grant control of the specifics of interviews to the department and may require restrictions or pool interviews if requests to speak with one prisoner are excessive.

(AB 2101)

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