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Senate Panel Passes Measure to Repeal 'Prisoners Bill of Rights'

April 05, 1994|DAN MORAIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Backed by prison officials and correctional officers, a state Senate committee Monday approved a bill repealing the "prisoners bill of rights" that grants inmates several privileges, including conjugal visits and the right to receive hard-core pornographic and racist writings.

The bill by Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside) would give inmates only the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. They still could have family visits and receive mail, but authorities could limit access to some magazines and prohibit private visits between husbands and wives.

The Legislature passed the "prisoners bill of rights" in 1975. It was a high point in the prisoners rights movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. The statute, which is part of the state Penal Code, gives prisoners the right to marry, bring civil lawsuits, make wills and create powers of attorney. Presley said his bill is not intended to remove those rights.

Corrections Director James Gomez said the statute needs to be changed. "It's fundamentally flawed," he said. "There ought to be a prisoners bill of responsibilities."

The statute allows inmates to sell "all written and artistic material" they produce. But Gomez said prisoners have used the statute to produce pornographic material within the prison walls and sell it outside the prison.

In addition, Gomez and other supporters of the bill say prisoners should not be allowed to receive pornographic and racist writings.

Gomez said that if the section is repealed, wardens could impose stricter grooming standards.

Presley's bill passed on a 7-1 vote, with Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) dissenting. It has several more hurdles in the Legislature. A similar bill supported by Gov. Pete Wilson and being pushed by Assemblyman Dean Andal (R-Stockton) is expected to be taken up in an Assembly committee today. Andal and Presley are running against one another for a seat on the State Board of Equalization.

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