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Legislators Weigh Wider Media Access to Prisoners

The Senate Public Safety Committee will consider a bill Tuesday that would allow media organizations greater access to inmates in state lockups.  Supporters of the measure say it would help shed light on the state’s troubled prison system.

Similar efforts have been blocked by three previous governors, leaving it difficult for journalists to record on-site interviews with state inmates, unless they're encountered randomly or are selected by prison staff.
 
Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat, says those restrictions shield abuses from the public eye, especially at high security facilities known as Security Housing Units, or SHUs.
 
"The way they've maintained the conditions in the SHU is by keeping the place shut down, keeping the press out, " said Ammiano.
 
The measure is supported by civil rights groups, media organizations and the state prison guards union.  The corrections department has taken a neutral position, but officials point out that reporters are allowed to meet with inmates in visitors’ rooms, though not with recording devices.
 
Several victims-rights groups oppose the bill, saying it would enhance the celebrity of violent criminals.
 
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