Legal corner:Bill of Interest to Prisoners

by Cassie Pierson, Staff Attorney, Legal Services for Prisoners with
A brief search of the legislative web site, gov, turned up several bills
addressing various issues of interest to
prisoners, their families, friends, and
advocates. This column focuses on four bills
that CCWP supports in addition to SB 1385, which
is discussed elsewhere in this newsletter.
AB 1866 (Leno) and SB 1164 (Romero) address the
issue of access to prisoners by the media. Both
of these bills have language in them which will
allow a journalist to receive “confidential”
correspondence from prisoners, to conduct
prearranged interviews with specified prisoners
as well as randomly selected prisoners, and to
bring pens, papers, audio and video recording
devices with them to the interview. Similar
“media access” bills have previously passed the
legislature but were vetoed by governors Wilson
and Davis.
SB 1287 (Kuehl) requires that prior to accepting
a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to any
offense punishable as a crime, the court must
state the following on the record: “If you are a
custodial parent, you are hereby advised that
conviction of the offense for which you have been
charged may have consequences for your parental
rights.” The defendant can then request
additional time to consider the appropriateness
of a plea. After January 1, 2005, if the court
fails to advise the defendant as required, and
the defendant can show that the conviction may
lead to termination of his or her parental
rights, the court shall vacate the judgment and
allow the defendant to withdraw the pleas of
guilty or nolo contendere, and enter a plea of
not guilty. If there is no record that a person
was given the advisement by the court, it will be
presumed that no advisement was given.
AB 1946 (Steinberg) addresses the issue of
compassionate release. This bill provides that a
prisoner who has a terminal illness and is given
a prognosis of less than 12 months to live and
who is not a threat to public safety, is eligible
for early release. In addition, there is
language in the bill that requires the warden or
the warden’s representative to keep the prisoner
and the prisoner’s family informed about the
prisoner’s medical condition and about
compassionate release proceedings. If the
prisoner is granted a compassionate release, she
is to be released within 48 hours of the court’s
order with her state identification, medical
records, medications, and property in her
AB 1796 (Leno) would permit those convicted of
drug felonies to qualify for food stamps.
Specifically, the bill provides that California
will opt out of the lifetime federal ban from
food stamps for persons who were convicted of a
drug felony. While California declined to
include an opt-out provision in 1997 when it
implemented welfare reform, there are several
states, including Maine, Oregon, New York, and
Ohio that opted out completely. Bills similar to
AB 1796 were introduced in the past and were
passed by the Assembly and Senate only to be
vetoed by Gov. Davis.
These are only a few of the many bills that are
being developed in the Assembly and Senate. In
the past few months there has been an increased
awareness of the corruption present within the
CDC and CYA that may lead to more positive
legislation in the future. Many newspaper
articles have appeared and legislators in
Sacramento have held hearings about the state of
corrections in California. CCWP encourages you
to keep informed about what is happening in the
legislature and to call or write your
representatives and tell them you support the
above bills!