AB 1270 authorizes the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to allow reporters to personally interview inmates, in face-to-face prearranged meetings.
Face-to-face prearranged meetings were allowed for certain inmates from 1975-1996. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation stopped allowing inmates to make special appointments for interviews in 1996 following a significant increase in talk show and tabloid media requests for interviews with specific notorious inmates.
Tthis restriction is reasonable and, in fact, is one that is imposed by a number of states. Being able to visit whenever one wants and with whomever one wants is one of the rights that a criminal offender looses while incarcerated. Inmates currently have the same access to media that they have to their own family and friends.
Currently CDCR allows for media interviews by the following means; writing to the inmate via US Mail, becoming an approved visitor - enabling media representatives to meet with an inmate face-to-face during regular visitation hours, inmates can call media representatives collect during their telephone privileges, conducting face-to-face interviews with randomly selected inmates - this includes interviews of randomly selected inmates who are participating in specific programs or activities. The only restriction placed on inmates at this time is for pre-arranged face-face interviews with inmates.
In current pop culture, non-celebrity type personalities are made celebrities simply by gaining media attention. Charles Manson in particular has an outside following as well as the members of his “family” in custody. It is a valid concern that access by the media may give an offender the opportunity to become a “celebrity”. Media interviews tend to glamorize crime and criminals by making inmates television “stars” and thus undermine the severity of the penalties designed to deter crime. For example, sales of recordings and T-shirts concerning inmate Charles Manson have no doubt been aided by frequent media interviews with this inmate.
But even more important, a significant reason why the current media regulations were put into place was to keep inmates from communicating with each other – statewide and nationally. Television is a powerful communication tool.
Agencies working with at risk youth are concerned because kids today think inmates are glorified by being on television and they see potential profit form being labeled a “gangster” or by committing some news worthy act such as taking guns to school.
Privacy and safety go hand in hand. It is possible that in the interview or media research process, via description of the crime or mention of a particular geographic area, that the once protected identity of a victim could be divulged.
Concerns with Victim Notification Clause
· Less than 30% of victims that currently have a perpetrator in the California Prison System are in the notification database.
· Victims whom cannot be located may be blindsided by seeing their offender on television or in the newspaper. This could be potentially traumatizing for them and they may be re-victimized.
· Though it is a reasonable concept to consider contacting victims to notify them that their offender is being interviewed by the media, and to allow them to possibly comment as well, we must remember that most likely this will be pulling the victim back in to a process that they never intended to be a part of to begin with and most likely, do not want to be pulled back into.
Other versions of this legislation have been presented to the Governor over the years. Governor Wilson vetoed similar legislation stating, “The purpose of imprisonment is punishment and deterrence of crime. Those that are housed in state prison should not be treated as celebrities. Just as the legislature has enacted a ban upon activities which would allow criminal to profit materially from his crime, so should prison officials prevent media exposure that allows the criminal to enjoy the notoriety at the expense of others.” In 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger also vetoed similar legislation stating, “I do not believe violent criminals should be able to traumatize their victims a second time by having unfettered access to the media.” Governor Schwarzenegger did allow a more relaxed policy to be developed for media access to inmates.
In the 1974 US Supreme Court decision in Pell v. Procunier stating that it did not violate any Constitutional Rights. The US Supreme Court also stated that there was adequate means to contact and interact with media, though mail, telephone and visitation days.
The Pell decision identified four legitimate interests: 1) rehabilitation of offenders, 2) protection of the public, 3) deterrence of crime and 4) the security of the institution.
Face-to-face interviews would be disruptive to the facility under the “Big Wheel” theory espoused in Pell. The conducting of specific-inmate interviews tends to make such inmates celebrities. Once an inmate becomes a celebrity, the danger that he/she will lead or advocate violence or disobedience becomes akin to the danger presented by the formation of a prison gang.
The current media access regulations allowed by CDCR allow for transparency and openness in the CA prison systems. AB 1270 is simply a means to glorify convicted killers and other high profile inmates.