Governor Brown became the fourth consecutive Governor to deny journalists' the ability to access prison inmates for face-to-face interviews when he vetoed legislation that would have restored the practice that was commonplace when he was Governor the first time around.
AB 1270, by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), would have allowed a journalist to request an interview with an inmate limited by the ability of the warden or his or her designee to deny the interview if it would cause a threat to the security of the facility. The bill would further require the department to allow journalists to use materials necessary to conduct the interview, including, but not limited to, pens, pencils, papers, and audio and video recording devices but any of these items would also be subject to search.
In his veto message, Governor Brown parroted some of the same reasons used by his predecessors to veto the measure: that criminals would be glamorized and victims and their families would be traumatized by the media stories. He went further, however, to state that too much media access to prisoners would be harmful.
Prison rules created in 1996 by then Governor Wilson make it difficult for reporters to set up interviews with specific prisoners after being placed on an inmate's visitors list -- it often takes more than a month. Journalists are also prohibited from using notebooks or recording devices during interviews, and can only meet with inmates during visiting hours. Several years ago, the Department of Corrections, in a cost-cutting move, reduced by half the number of inmate visitation days at all of California's 32 prison facilities. The visitation day reduction means that inmate visits occur only on weekends.
Similar bills been passed by the Legislature eight times previously. The Governor's action brings the total number of vetoes of the measure to nine.