Media Access to Prisons Under Legislative Review: Prisoners Continue to Struggle Against SHU Conditions
January 10, 2012 Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
Press Contact: Jay Donahue
Oakland – The public safety committee of the California State Assembly will review the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) policies regarding media access to prisons and prisoners in a public hearing today at 9am in room 126 of the Capitol building. According to the language of the proposed bill, A.B. 1270 seeks to restore the media’s ability to conduct pre-arranged in-person interviews with specific prison inmates under the discretion of CDCR. The bill would enable media representatives to request specific in-person inmate interviews and requires CDCR to respond to requests within a 48 hour period. “The passing of this bill would be a really big success for both prisoners and the press in terms of being able to gain some leverage around holding the CDCR accountable,” said Carol Strickman, an attorney with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “Lack of media access to prisoners has created a real issue with transparency regarding the deplorable conditions in California prisons.” Media representatives were allowed to request interviews with prisoners for over two decades prior to 1996, when the CDCR made changes to their policy through an internal regulation.
During prisoner hunger strikes in both July and September of 2011, members of the press made repeated requests of the CDCR to interview strikers held in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) who were protesting conditions which have been sited by numerous human rights groups as inhumane. Prisoners detained in the SHU are kept in total isolation without any visitation and telephone privileges. SHU prisoner are confined to small concrete cells for 23 hours of the day without any contact, conditions that have been shown to exacerbate mental illness. A number of prisoners at Pelican Bay have been in the SHU for 20 years or more. After significant pressure from members of the press and the public, media representatives were allowed to tour the Pelican Bay SHU and interview several prisoners on August 17, 2011. “The media visit to the SHU was essentially a CDCR publicity stunt,” said Emily Harris, statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget, “This was a highly orchestrated event designed to show only what the CDCR wanted the public to see. A.B. 1270 will allow the media and the public a better look at exactly how the CDCR uses $9.2 billion dollars in tax payer money annually.”
With this bill on the table, SHU prisoners around the state continue to struggle to make gains around the five core demands laid out during the recent hunger strikes. The CDCR is reportedly reviewing its controversial gang validation procedure with a proposal expected for review by stakeholders in the coming months. “Prisoners took an extraordinary risk by going on hunger strike and they continue to be retaliated against for doing so,” says Molly Porzig of Critical Resistance, “They brought the conditions in California’s SHUs into the limelight and we will continue to struggle to make sure their demands are met.”
For more information please visit www.prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com