An audit of the California prison system was released this Past Tuesday and shows both the soaring costs of a system corrupted by mismanagement and irrational penal laws. While important in a number of ways, it is perhaps most significant because of the dire economic crisis that the state currently finds itself in.
The audit found that prison expenditures have increased by almost 32%. It’s cheaper for California to imprison its inmates in other states rather than its own. Overtime is abused both by correction officers and officials. And 1 in 4 prisoners are currently jailed for overly-long periods of time as a result of California’s infamous three strikes law. This cynical and callous law will cost the state almost $20 billion just to house those currently serving sentences, a price tag that will continue to rise as more and more prisoners are sentenced under it’s mandatory prison sentences. What the audit somehow mentions to neglect, even in its official recommendations to help curb and control costs, is the disproportionate influence that the CCPOA, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, has had on lawmaking and attempts at prison reform.
UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies concludes that “in recent years the CCPOA has become a mayor player in California politics. Its political influence has grown to the point that it is widely considered to be one of the most powerful political forces in Sacramento. Its lobbying efforts and campaign contributions have greatly facilitated the passage of legislation favorable to union members.” Such favorable legislation includes an exorbitant benefits and pay package for officers.
“Custody staff costs,” the audit found, “include the $431 million Corrections paid in overtime for inmate custody operation during fiscal year 2007-08. Overtime is so prevalent that of the almost 28,000 correctional officers paid [overtime], more then 8,400 earned pay in excess of the top pay rate for a correctional lieutenant – the level two ranks above a correctional officer.” The obvious solution to this problem would be to cap overtime hours, hire new staff, and/or decrease the prison population so less guards are needed for less working hours. Doing so, however, would actually cost tax payers more. “The cost to recruit and train new correctional officers, combined with the significant increases in the cost of benefits in recent years, makes having a new correctional officer slightly more costly per hour than paying overtime to the highest-paid correctional officers.”
This is due almost entirely to the lobbying efforts of the CCPOA. The group’s influence is so pervasive and so corrupting that in November 2004, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson “ordered an investigation into the state’s labor contract with California’s correctional officers, asking whether it gives the CCPOA too much control over prison management.”
Take, for instance, the three strikes law, Proposition 184. The CCPOA was one of the propositions biggest donors. A report by the Stanford Criminal Justice Center details the how the CCPOA manages to prevent any and all reform on the issue:
Three Strikes’ disparate impact on non-violent offenders and its huge costs inspired reformers to introduce Proposition 66 in 2004, which sought to limit felonies that could trigger second and third strikes to violent or serious crimes. By 2004, the political climate in California had shifted considerably – crime no longer dominated voter concerns and the public seemed receptive to pragmatic, cost-effective solutions. A June, 2004 field poll found 76% of respondents in favor of Prop. 66 […] [T]he CCPOA contributed over half a million dollars to defeat the measure and funneled additional support to victims rights groups.”
The proposition ultimately lost by five percentage points. Thanks to the CCPOA’s ignoble and self-serving actions, the state continues to sentence people such as Gary Ewing to 25 years to life for stealing three golf clubs. They are why Leandro Andrade is currently serving 50 years without the possibility of parole for stealing nine videotapes totaling less than $200. Kevin Weber was given a sentence of 26 to life for stealing a handful of chocolate chip cookies while homeless and unemployed. Rene Landa stole a spare tire and was sentenced to 27 to life. Johnny Quirino got 25 years after stealing some razor blades. George Anderson is spending 25 years to life for falsely filling out a DMV application. And on, and on, and on.
Dual loyalty is a political term describing an individual or group who has incompatible, conflicting loyalties. The CCPOA appears to care not at all about the state of California, the economy, voter concerns, people such as George Anderson, or the rehabilitation of prisoners. All it cares about is gaining more power, more influence, and more money. Its actions demonstrate that rather than protecting workers rights against exploitive employers, it actively and aggressively seeks to create a massive prison-industrial complex that serves its own narrow interests. “[T]he CCPOA,” the Stanford report argues, “will continue to exploit voter prejudice against prisoners to undermine reform efforts.” The CCPOA does not merely oppose reform, it hates it. It is willing to use scare tactics and legislative bribes to make sure that the corruption rampant in both Sacramento and the prison system is maintained.