Crime and Punishment Prison Prison Policy State Government

NOT AGAIN! The Governator Vetoes the Prison Sunshine Bill

Corcoran State Prison
Corcoran State Prison

Honestly, there is no excuse for this action. None. Zero. Zip.

Late Friday afternoon, Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 304—State Senator Gloria Romero’s bill that would have given the press reasonable, albeit still regulated, access to California State prisons. Oh, yeah, this is the fifth time he’s vetoed some version of the bill.

SB 304, the Prison Sunshine Bill, was passed by the state senate in May, by the state assembly about a week and a half ago—both by a wide, bipartisan margin.

WLA blogged about this issue in detail early this spring, so I won’t revisit all that here. But, what with nearly every federal judge within shouting distance of Sacramento castigating the governor for allowing unconstitutional conditions to flourish in the state’s prisons like toxic mold, one would think that Schwarzenegger would sign Romero’s bill, if for no worthier reason, simply as PR ploy.

I mean, hell, Arnold,
why not at least pretend you have nothing to hide?

But evidently, control is more important.

If you read it, you’ll find that the bill is pretty simple.
It basically says that press may request interviews with prisoners, that the requests should be answered in a timely fashion, and should be granted unless there’s a compelling reason not to do so—safety issues being the top of the least of such compelling reasons. It also states that press may bring pads and pencils or recording devices to the interviews. (As of now, often even a pad and pencil is forbidden.)

Finally, it has a couple of sentences about how the prison staff can’t retaliate against an inmate just because he or she has either been the subject of a press request, or has actually talked to a reporter.

There you have it. Nothing outsized or unreasonable in a country that theoretically welcomes press scrutiny.

In his veto message, Arnold used the usual claptrap as his excuse–that press access would “glamorize murderers”….blah, blah, blah.

Right. That’s what we’re all dying to do.

No, what press access would do is shine a bright light on the gross mismanagement of the system. And that’s something this governor won’t allow.


  • I can see all the lawsuits to gain refused access because the “simple” bill needs to be interpreted by some left-wing, Democratic appointed judge to determine what defines a “compelling reason.” “Simple” bills, such as the ERA before beinig exposed, allow too much discretion to unelected officials. When a former President comes up with mulitiple meanings of the word “is,” then it worries me about judges who would be like him. Unless there is a “compelling reason” to provide more access to prisoners who have an ax to grind and might falsely accuse guards and put them through a legal hell, then leave things as they are.

  • Now let’s see. Over the past twenty-five years Democrats have occupied the Governor’s Mansion for a little over five years. In those twenty years of GOP dominance I don’t recall Deukmajian or Wilson appointing “Liberal Democratic” Judges but maybe our Georgian friend knows something
    I missed. Similiarly, the bulk of Federal judeges (and 7 of 9 Supremes) were appointed by Republicans. Yet, somehow our “Peach” of a guy is worried about Dem judges?

    As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts. I’ll stay in the Reality based Community, thank you.

  • Woody, this is not democratic/republican issue. Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, did away with indeterminate sentencing, which has turned out to be a disaster. Democratic governor, Gray Davis, who is a former friend of mine, by the way, was far worse on law and order issues than Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Arnold is cowed by the law-and-order right, but far more so by the prison guards union—as was Gray.

    Look, I don’t like Arnold, but he started out with his heart in the right place on the corrections issue. But he was way outplayed and out gunned.

    It’s complicated.

    I frankly think that Arnold’s veto of the sunshine bill has little to do with “glamorizing prisoners” and everything to do with pressure from the union—which, with few exceptions, calls the shots on corrections policies in California.

    If you want a more detailed picture of the situation (apart from partisan politics), with some history included, this June 2006 article in the Washington Post is pretty good—even if a tad dated. (Things have gotten worse, not better.) And it doesn’t take long to read.

    The only way to combat the union’s hold is with public pressure engendered by press scrutiny. But the general public has no idea how bad things really are, BECAUSE WE CAN’T GET IN TO DO ADEQUATE REPORTING.

    Believe it or not, with rare exceptions, there’s no flood of prisons complaining about conditions. They’re far, far too afraid of retaliation. I have guys call me to talk to their kids and their girlfriends, and just to have somebody to talk to period, not to complain. I hear the things going on just in passing. They’re so used to the ghastly situation that they don’t fight it, don’t complain, unless it’s really so far over the top that they can’t let it go, like the guy who was sexually assaulted by a guard and sent me the corroborative paperwork (it’s a long story) because he was terrified the guard would make it disappear. (The situation is now being investigated.)

    Please understand, I’m not demonizing the guards per se either; they’ve become victims of this monster, out of control, vicious system that is, by the way, Big Business.

    I could go on….but I’d bore everybody.

    Woody, remember that former Assemblyman, Pat Nolan, who went to prison and is now born again and working with Chuck Colson? He used to be against the sunshine bill, but now he’s rabidly in favor of opening up the prisons to the press, because he saw it all first hand. (And, keep in mind, he went to nice guy prison, not the level four places where it’s really scary.)

    Okay, I’m outa here.

  • rlc, the Left is well known to handpick judges to hear cases, and it only takes one sympathetic judge, who exists despite whatever party appointed the highest number. That’s the reality. How sad that you spent most of your post attacking me personally rather than making a valid point.

    Celeste, whenever you use a term like “the Governator,” a term used disparagingly by Democrats to describe a Republican governor, then it is implied that this is a R/D issue.

    As an aside, I love the way that the Left names bills, especially “simple” ones like the Sunshine bill, the Employee Free Choice Act which takes away the secret ballot and limits free choice, and the ERA which was not about equal rights but about special rights. Maybe the Sunshine bill could be renamed the “Knee Jerk, Anti-Establishment, Stick It to ‘the Man’ Bill.”

    I rarely, if ever, defend unions, but at least their side should be presented so that readers might understand why they object and might decide if their position is based upon real concerns that have been ignored by those wanting more access for their own self-serving reasons. It’s better to discuss concerns of employees rather than headline the story by calling the governor names.

    You have implicated the unions for standing in the way of progress for the L.A. schools, personnel problems of King-Drew Medical Center, and now for blocking what you consider progress with the prisons. If unions are causing so many problems in your area, then maybe you need a new category named “Unions” and some articles calling for investigations into and breaking up of the unions.

    Give Gray my regards when you see him.

  • Oh, I forgot one. The unions also have created problems with the LAPD. California should become a right-to-work state.

  • Oh, piffle, Woody. I use Governator, as does everyone, to be ironic. If we had such handy nick names for the philandering mayor, the union-cuddling former governor whomever, we’d employ ’em. Arnold himself all but courts the appellation.

    Any group that gets too much power to the exclusion of all other stakeholders, becomes a problem. Just try googling CCPOA and then read randomly. The California Corrective Peace Officers Association is, next to the Indian gaming interests, far and away the most powerful lobby in the state. And when you have one group of non-elected special interest folks actually setting almost all policy in relation to one of the state’s most important issues, you’ve got trouble.

    As I said, Arnold’s not really so bad on these issues. I think he gets it. He’s not a law-and-order-hardass by any means. He’s just wa-a–a-ay over matched.

    But he should have done the brave thing on this bill.

  • Sorry Woody but I’m not replying until you have done some research on how judges are selected for individual cases. And I assure you they don’t get assigned by the ACLU. I’m sure a visit to the websight of the Federal Courts will enlighten you.

  • And I hate to disillusion you about Arnold but yesterday he appeared on AIR AMERICA Radio to talk to his cousin by marriage, Robert Kennedy Jr. on Global Warming. RFK Jr. hosts a program called “Ring of Fire” and they basically agreed. Gee, another “Conservative” with feet of clay!

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