Opinion: Let reporters into prisons

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As a young public defender, I represented an innocent man who was convicted of
murder.

John Tennison was serving a sentence of 25 years to life when, in 1997, I
contacted a 20/20 news producer, who agreed to feature the case.

Tennison had already lost seven years of his freedom. A national broadcast
exposing concealed evidence, perjury and misconduct by police and prosecutors in
the case could reverse his fate and reunite him with his family.

But when prison officials denied the television crew an interview with my
client, producers were forced to withdraw. No interview meant no story.
 
Tennison was eventually exonerated, but it took 14 years. Fortunately, a
reporter from the SF Bay Guardian named Adam Clay Thompson accompanied me during
a prison interview as my paralegal and was able to meet and interview Tennison.
He wrote a cover story that exposed the injustice of Tennison's case and
started the ball rolling towards his eventual exoneration. I am convinced that
if media access were granted in this case, it would have restored his freedom
years earlier.
 
For the past 15 years, California’s prisons have operated in a virtual media
blackout. With the flick of his pen, Governor Jerry Brown has the opportunity to
turn on the light.
 
Now on his desk is AB 1270, also known as the Prison Media Access Bill. The
bill, authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, would restore the press’ ability to
conduct pre-arranged, face-to-face interviews with specific prison inmates.
 
Currently, reporters may interview inmates who are hand-picked by prison
officials. They are not allowed follow-up contact, making it impossible to know
whether a prisoner has suffered retaliation as a result of the interview.
 
It wasn’t always this way. During Brown’s first stint as governor, the press was
free to fulfill its watchdog role in California prisons.
 
In 1996, prison officials clamped down on press access under the guise of
discouraging tabloid media from making celebrities of notorious killers. In the
process, it also made it far harder to expose systematic abuse, fiscal
mismanagement and unsafe conditions for guards and inmates alike.
 
It was under this information shut-out that inhumane conditions were allowed to
fester to the point that the Supreme Court intervened in 2011, ordering the
release of 46,000 inmates.
 
It was nearly a century ago that US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote
that sunlight is the best disinfectant. It remains no less true today.

Government accountability is impossible without media access. The 2011-2012

state budget allocates $9.2 billion in taxpayer money to the CaliforniaDepartment of Corrections and
Rehabilitation, yet public information is limited by CDCR’s current restrictive
media policies.

Taxpayers deserve to know where their money is going. Like John Tennison,
innocent men and women languishing in California’s prisons deserve to tell their
stories.

Jeff Adachi is San Francisco's public defender.

Comments

You'd think that sucking up to power billionaires would get Adachi at least some crumbs in policy concessions, but no, he's adopted what are essentially the politics of Bevan Dufty to appease the austerians and got little for it but life as a political armadillo.

The austerians will attack the public, the public sector and the public good with equal fervor. The whole point of prison is to convince people that we have no choice but to go along with Adachi and Moritz as they attack the middle class lest we suffer the torture of the prison industrial complex.

There are reasons why they show Lockup Raw after the MSNBC liberal cavalcade, as a clear warning as to what happens when you step out of line. When the billionaires and the lap dog polticians who serve their needs step out of line, of course, there are no consequences to speak of.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 11:05 am

Don't know what you're smoking, Guest, but it's definitely altered your thought process. Sticking to reality, is there anything in Adachi's piece that doesn't make sense? Prisons now take more taxpayer money in California than schools. More media access might mean more information on how and why this imbalance exists. We (the public) might also learn how the Correctional Officers Association has become a dominant and frightening political force in our state. How this amounts to an attack on the middle class eludes me, but then I'm not currently sniffing toxic fumes.

Posted by Apthorp on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

As a voter and taxpayer, it's the one thing I will always vote for - public safety. If the government only did that and did it well, I'd be happy.

The rest I can get privately.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

Wow. So the rest of the citizenry can go straight to hell, huh? Rare to see such a frank, Romney-esque vision shared here, so thanks, I guess.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

number one job for a municipality. And in fact the city of Oakland spends about 75% of it's city budget on public safety, and that's hardly a Republican stronghold.

If you're murdered or burned to death, nothing else really matters, does it?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

Yes, Adachi should be locked up for trying to put the hurt on the "City family."

He wanted to deny the babies of working-class city workers their health care.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

He merely thought city workers should contribute a little to their gold-plated benefits package.

Anecdote: I heard two muni bus drivers talking the other day. Two snippets:

"Now I have to contribute to my medical plan"

"Now, I can no longer get paid 9 hours for driving 3 hours on a Sunday".

My heart bleeds for them.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

So now the City is strangling the middle-class with Sunday meters, higher meter rates, privatizing parks etc. - all in the name of covering excessive pensions - but somehow Adachi was looking out for "billionaires."

City employee union drones will pretty much say anything to keep their loot...

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

Adachi took money from billionaires, and then championed their right-wing agenda to destroy public-sector unions. No way to get around that one, bro, no matter how you spin it...even if he happens to be right on this particular issue. (yes, I agree that we should open up the prisons to reporters.) Somehow, Jeff got the misguided idea that pandering to the right would would make him so widely popular that he'd be shoein for mayor. Boy, did he get that wrong.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

city workers would no longer have sweetheart deals on our dime.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 5:44 pm

No, it's actually a middle-class agenda. Who do you think pays all the taxes and fees to support City employee largess- billionaires??

Do billionaires care about Sunday meters, $6.00 an hour parking meters, privitization of parks etc?? They do not.

The middle-class needs more champions like Adachi. Or maybe you missed Jerry Brown's proposed sales tax increase on the poor to cover the bloat at the state level. The notion that only billionaires what public employee benefits brought under control is patently absurd.

Where are our champions??

Your "1%" and "billionaire" tripe directed at people not paying attention is not going to cut it in here...

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

"Get out of my way middle class riff raff! Walk, take the bus or better yet just stay home and rot! I don't care! I want room for my chauffered limosines to park!
FU!"

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

...And they're getting them because of uncontrolled benefit expenditures.

I have no doubt evening meters are on the way. The middle-class is squeezed just a little further out of this town every day.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 7:38 pm

Adachi thought he could build a political career (become mayor or enter Congress) by kissing up to the 1%-ers who want to break public sector unions.

He wanted to cut off health insurance to working-class civil servants in San Francisco and their children. Like say your kid is dying of leukemia? Sorry, no insurance for you, according to Adachi

Public-sector workers make much less than their private-sector counterparts. And in exchange, they get to retire as young as 55/58 with some benefits. They are sacrificing for you, folks.

Posted by N Ballard on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

"They are sacrificing for you, folks."

Hilariously "no."

For someone to sacrifice for me I have to ask them to do it, or I have to be part of he movement that they sacrifice for.

So out of touch are our progressives.

Posted by matlock on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 8:46 pm

Adachi called for a modest increase in contributions - you know like for the City employees with dependents who pay $9 a month for Kaiser. (His 2nd initiative nixed this.) This seems reasonable in light of the alternative, which is the City taxing the poor via parking meters, privitization of parks etc. to cover excess expenditures. That's not to mention the City's $5 billion unfunded health liability that is growing at $400 million a year - turns out stuff like this is a problem.

"Like say your kid is dying of leukemia? Sorry, no insurance for you, according to Adachi."

Do you actually believe this tripe or just think people are naive enough to buy it? Cite one section in the initiative that backs up this statement - you cannot, it is a lie.

"Public-sector workers make much less than their private-sector counterparts."

What planet are you from. The average City worker salary in the 2011-12 budget was $96k and total compensation was $135k including benefits. The average private sector worker total comp in SF is $75k.

"They are sacrificing for you, folks. "

They are bankrupting CA cities. In SF,we can't even get the streets re-paved. I am surprised you didn't tell us they were our "heroes."

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 7:35 pm

I'm all for the press having complete access to all people in jail. The press should be able to interview anyone they wish at any time they wish.

What is comical about Adachi and his sleazy scheming is that his office abetted a illegal alien in claiming that he was forced to sell drugs. Rigoberto Valle turned out to be a run of the mill drug dealer ass hole with a newish scheme to get over.

FUCK YOU ADACHI, if you want some sort of honesty, then your office should represent it.

The real world should treat Adachi and his shit bags honestly, on the flip side his office should not pull the bullshit that they do.

Adachi's credibility here is zero.

Posted by matlock on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 8:26 pm

Adachi lost. As well he should have. But the fact that he shouldn't be let anywhere near room 200 after what he tried to do to the working people of this city, doesn't change the fact that he remains a superb Public Defender. That's all he'll ever be, which is fine, because criminal justice issues are where he really shines.

He's certainly aided some real scumbags -and I'm talking about the billionaires, not his clients. But this article isn't about them, or $6/hr parking meters, or all these other issues. It's about letting the press have access to prisons, and he's 100% right about that.

Posted by Greg on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 9:22 pm

Well said, Greg. Just one caveat~ if Adachi ever decides to get up on a stage with Arnold Schwarzenegger again, and talks about how workers should "tighten their belts" by accepting these austerity measures, like the folks in Europe are doing (he actually made that comparison), then he thoroughly deserves the criticism.

That said, Adachi has done a great job as PD, and this is an extremely important bill. California has been sued on numerous occasions for the deplorable conditions in its prisons, including one of the largest ever prison class action lawsuits. A settlement agreement required the Department of Corrections to completely overhaul its medical care policies and procedures, but an audit of the 33 state prisons showed that we still have a long way to go towards solving the problem. So, it is crucial to let reporters have access, because change generally only happens when the public becomes aware of how bad things are. Please call or fax Governor Brown's office and urge him to sign AB 1270 into law~ Phone: (916) 445-2841 Fax: (916) 558-3160

Posted by lp on Sep. 18, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

Right on, Greg. A true City Family supporter who understands that defined-benefit pension plans should be for EVERYBODY. Not just the 1%. Forcing the working class into the equivalent of 401-K plans is crazy. It would starve us to death.

And the 1% can afford to pay for all of these pensions if it was taxed right.

Adachi was just an ambitious politician trying to score cheap points. He's back in his rightful place now. Though he will face consequences in the next election.

Posted by N Ballard on Sep. 18, 2012 @ 6:29 am

Apparently the citizens of San Francisco care considerably more about percentages on their health care plans than they do about the fact that we do not have media access in a MASSIVE publicly funded state institution. Thanks for clarifying your priorities, SF! I hope you are not the same folks who piss and moan about the injustice in the world, since you obviously do not care if the injustice doesn't pertain directly to your needs.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 10:06 am

Look, we all agree with Adachi on prison disclosure.

But the losers and whiners who backed Adachi's so-called pension reforms and wanted to rob children of health care started this dog fight right here.

And they needed to be reminded that the public workers of San Francisco stand front and center against the 1% manipulating the mainstream media.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 11:46 am

See CCSF, front page SF Chronicle.

I gather the CCSF audit was a "1%" conspiracy. Your messaging is actually goin pretty well - hard to keep it up when you run out of money.

CCSF is a foreboding of SF's fiscal stability...

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

Also from this author

  • Why I'm pushing pension reform

    "In the next 12 months, pension costs are projected to increase by nearly $100 million more than last year."

  • Prop. B will save healthcare

    Even with contributions required by Prop. B, city employees will receive a benefit package that is unparalleled in the private sector

  • Progressives should care about pension reform

    It's tricky to raise pension contributions for "new employees" since Mayor Gavin Newsom has been firing people then rehiring them at lower pay