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Reporters can't currently request interviews with specific prisoners; new bill would change that law

Pelican Bay SHU

Julie Small/KPCC

The "Secure Housing Unit" at Pelican Bay State Prison.

A bill that supporters say would make California's prison system more transparent passed out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee Tuesday, its first stop on a potentially long journey. The bill, AB1270, would allow reporters to request interviews with specific prison inmates, which is prohibited under current law. 

The issue rose in public consciousness last year when a hunger strike began in the highly restricted Security Housing Units (SHU's) at Pelican Bay State Prison and spread to prisons throughout the state. Strike participants demanded better conditions in the SHU's and a change to policies that keep inmates in isolation cells indefinitely. 

During the strike, media outlets requested interviews with hunger strike leaders and other SHU inmates, but were denied access. After the strike was over, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation led a press tour of the prison, including portions of the SHU, and permitted media to speak with selected inmates. The inmates did not include hunger strike leaders.