Prison Guard Union Too Powerful
Donations to Legislature by UNION
Posted on Fri, Aug. 27, 2004
Senator appeals to federal judge to halt union's power
SACRAMENTO - A key state senator called Friday for a federal judge to consider blocking the powerful prison guards union's access to internal investigation materials, after the Assembly refused to nullify that portion of the union's contract.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer is suing over the union's insistence that the contract requires that even confidential information must be forwarded immediately to the employee.
A bill by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, would have barred the release of investigation-related information to a prison employee suspected of wrongdoing while the investigation of the employee was pending.
The measure passed the Senate but failed twice in the Assembly, prompting a letter from Romero Friday to federal District Judge Thelton Henderson.
The judge is considering appointing a receiver to oversee California's troubled prison system, particularly its flawed system of investigating employee wrongdoing. Romero asked him to hold hearings on the contract provision, and suggested he should consider blocking the release of any confidential material.
"We cannot tolerate a continuation of the 'code-of-silence'" under the contract provision, Romero wrote. "The internal investigation process must be corrected now if we are to restore integrity to employee investigations."
ON THE NET
Read SB1731 at www.sen.ca.gov
Posted on Thu, Aug. 19, 2004
'Fitness' pay adds to prison expense
SACRAMENTO - Last year, prison guards received ``fitness pay'' worth $33.2 million -- nearly a sevenfold increase from 1999 -- even though they're no longer required to even take a physical fitness test, much less pass one.
The guards' union proclaims its members walk the toughest beat in the state, but the cost of their contract has been under mounting scrutiny because the state is relying on borrowing billions to balance the books.
Legislative critics complain about what they call overly generous salary provisions, and say that point is brought home by a close look at the fitness pay given to officers. What used to be a bonus paid to some guards who proved their fitness on a physical test has morphed into a perk that the overwhelming majority now receive.
In fact, managers, wardens and deputy directors are now among the roughly 25,000 employees eligible for this extra pay, according to Corrections Department officials.
Starting in 2002, most of them began to collect fitness pay -- averaging about $1,550 per year for a veteran guard -- based on a doctor's note, not an actual physical test.
At issue is whether guards, who must deal with hardened felons, should get the money without having to prove their physical toughness. Officers with more than 10 years on the job earn about $59,000 per year, which makes them among the highest-paid in the nation.
Under the revised agreement, guards who were due an 11 percent raise July 1 will instead get 5 percent now, plus another 5 percent Jan. 1. Next July, the guards are due to get at least an additional 5 percent.
Fitness pay was spotlighted in late July when the state Senate ratified revisions in the contract in exchange for $108 million in projected savings. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the measure into law Aug. 11.
One lawmaker critical of the changes, Sen. Jack Scott, D-Pasadena, said that when he first voted on the contract in 2002 he was not aware of the cost of some of the provisions, including fitness pay, then paid to 58 percent of officers.
Now, about 80 percent receive it, which is partly why the total cost has mushroomed. ``It suddenly became a guarantee,'' said Scott, explaining the sudden rise in fitness pay.
``Prior to 2002, there had to be a certain level of fitness to get fitness pay,'' Scott said in an interview. ``Now, my understanding is that everyone in the unit qualifies for fitness pay,'' which he called ``a little strange.''
But Lance Corcoran, executive vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, said the fitness test was administered inconsistently. He said the union's goal is to have a healthy workforce. Previously, Corcoran said, ``We had guys who wouldn't go to the doctor for five or six years.''
The Department of Corrections, which runs the nation's largest prison system, has suffered repeated cost overruns. During the past decade, the prison budget has doubled while the number of inmates has increased only 20 percent. In January, it was revealed that the department had hired 1,000 guards at a cost of $100 million without legislative approval.
Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson said some provisions of the union contract undermine the state's authority. He raised the possibility of naming a federal receiver to run California's 32 prisons.
Schwarzenegger, a former bodybuilder, has recruited a new team of managers who have pledged to run prisons in a more cost-efficient way and fix any problems.
``At least we know they are going to see a doctor,'' said Dave Glib, chief of labor relations in the Department of Personnel Administration, adding that the revised fitness-pay language was negotiated under former Gov. Gray Davis.
Five years ago, when guards were required to do sit-ups, run and jump as an incentive to stay in shape, the state shelled out only about $5 million for the fitness incentive, according to figures provided by the State Controller's Office. Qualified full-time officers received $100 per month.
That rose to $130 in 2002 -- equal to what California Highway Patrol officers receive -- when the Legislature approved the contract negotiated under Davis, a major beneficiary of the CCPOA's campaign donations. The amount the state has paid has grown steadily, from $4.9 million in the 1999-2000 fiscal year to $33.2 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the controller's office.
``If the value of fitness pay is so that we have fit officers, we're not getting it,'' Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, said at a hearing last March. ``Every officer is getting fitness pay, and I can guarantee you they all can't pass that test.''
``I don't disagree with you,'' responded Linda Buzzini, a state labor negotiator.
And that's not the only wrinkle.
Under the contract, guards must earn near-parity with CHP officers. So even if lawmakers stripped guards of the fitness pay, critics contend, they'd still get the money to maintain their CHP salary link.
Mike Jimenez, president of the union, acknowledges that to keep the fitness pay a guard needs only to undergo a physical exam, not to demonstrate physical prowess.
He said the aim of the union was to get its members to visit a doctor at least once a year to improve their health and eventually cut sick leave and overtime costs, which also have increased dramatically in recent years.
When officers were given fitness tests, Jimenez said, they weren't always conducted at convenient times. He also contended that the application of the fitness test was not always fair.
``The problem was they made it difficult to get,'' Jimenez told lawmakers at the March hearing. ``The other reality of that situation was that we had people that weighed 350 pounds getting fitness money'' as well as officers who were ``very fit'' who couldn't pass because of the way the test was applied.
The provision was modeled after fitness pay that was in the contract of the California Highway Patrol. CHP officers no longer have to take a test, either -- or even get a physician's note. Recruits, however, must pass a performance test to enter the ranks.
While firefighters don't get fitness pay, they are given time on the
job to exercise. Some other ``safety officers'' are still required to take
an actual fitness test.
Contact Mark Gladstone at mgladstone@ mercurynews.com or (916) 325-4314.
Senator blasts 'spineless' Assembly for killing prison probe bill
(08-18) 17:14 PDT SACRAMENTO (AP) --
Using unusually critical language, a state senator lashed out at the Assembly on Wednesday for rejecting a bill designed to aid prison officials when they investigate guards for alleged criminal activity.
Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, accused 49 lawmakers of caving in to pressure from the guards' powerful union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, and either voting no or abstaining when her bill was voted on Tuesday.
"We will never correct the many problems at our state prisons until legislators develop a spine and do what is good for California, not what is good for their special interests," said Romero, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on the California Correctional System.
Romero's bill would overturn a controversial provision in the guards' contract that requires prison officials to immediately turn over to the targets of internal prison investigations any confidential statements they receive from alleged victims and witnesses.
Matthew Cate, the prison system's inspector general, said that contract provision creates a "significant barrier to the fair and effective prosecution of crimes committed by correctional officers.
"By providing the alleged victim's identity and statement to the suspect prior to (completion of) the investigation, the state is practically inviting the suspect to collude with potential witnesses, invent an alibi or intimidate the alleged victim into recanting," Cate said in a letter to Assembly members.
"This is especially true in a prison setting, where an officer suspected of a crime has unlimited access to staff witnesses and a great deal of power over inmate witnesses or victims."
Romero said she was "still reeling" from the defeat Wednesday and met with Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, to "demand an accounting" of why the Assembly rejected the bill.
A spokesman for Nunez, Gabriel Sanchez, did not immediately return a call from a reporter seeking reaction.
Romero went so far as to list on her press release the 31 lawmakers who voted for the bill, the 33 who voted against it and the 16 who didn't vote. The measure needed at least 41 votes, a simple majority of the 80-seat Assembly, to pass.
"This bill simply asserts that when a crime is investigated at a state prison, a correctional officer will be treated like any other law enforcement official and any other citizen," she said. "Had 16 people had the courage and decency to vote this measure would have seen the light of day."
The bill could come up for a second vote at a later Assembly meeting.
On the Net: www.assembly.ca.gov
Assembly sides with prison guards' union
Officials complained contract hampers probes into crimes
- Mark Martin, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Sacramento -- In a victory for the state's prison guards union, the Assembly refused Tuesday to change a part of the union's labor contract that the attorney general and the state's top prisons watchdog contend hampers investigations into crimes committed by guards.
Seven Assembly Democrats joined a majority of Republicans in killing a bill whose defeat was the No. 1 legislative priority this year of the politically powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association. The vote infuriated the bill's author, state Sen. Gloria Romero, who charged that the Assembly "had no backbone'' and had bowed to union wishes.
"This is about money and power,'' Romero, D-Los Angeles, said after the late afternoon vote. "Money and power has prevailed today on the floor of the Assembly. Justice took a walk.''
At issue is a clause in the union's controversial pact with the state that prison reformers such as Romero say allows the union to interfere with internal affairs investigations. The problem first surfaced in legislative hearings held last year in which prison investigators alleged that a probe into the beating of inmates at the lockup in Chino had been thwarted by union officials.
Legal interpretations of the contract provision allow prison guards to obtain some information about complaints alleging criminal conduct that have been filed against them. Guards have the ability to determine the name of their accuser and other information before internal affairs interviews are conducted, which prison watchdogs say makes inmates or whistleblowers far less likely to report wrongdoing for fear of retribution.
A union official downplayed the clause, which has been in effect for 15 years, saying it simply allows guards and prison administrators to quickly understand complaints and whether they should be treated seriously. Lance Corcoran, executive vice president of the union, noted 90,000 complaints were filed against guards every year, many of them frivolous.
Union lobbyists urged lawmakers Tuesday to oppose the measure.
Despite the union's contention, many others, including several officials with prison oversight powers, are less dismissive of the contract's clause.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer has sued the union over the provision, saying it violates state law regarding criminal probes. An investigator appointed by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson suggested in a report released earlier this year that the provision might hinder internal affairs investigations.
And Inspector General Mathew Cate, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's appointee as the independent prison watchdog, wrote in a letter released Tuesday that the contract "is practically inviting the suspect (guard) to collude with potential witnesses, invent an alibi or intimidate the alleged victim into recanting.''
Opponents of the bill said Tuesday that the Legislature should not amend a contract that was previously OKd by both then-Gov. Gray Davis and lawmakers. The contract has been under fire mostly for giving large raises to guards, whose union is annually one of the biggest contributors to lawmakers.
"We will then be sending a message to all collective bargaining groups throughout this state that agreements that are ratified by the Legislature and the members of the employee groups can be overturned just because somebody doesn't like it anymore,'' said Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, D-Norwalk (Los Angeles County), who is a former parole agent and still a union member.
The measure failed on a 33-31 vote. Sixteen lawmakers, mostly Democrats, were on the Assembly floor but did not vote.
Romero said she hoped to bring the bill back for consideration again. She noted that Henderson had recently suggested he would take over the state's prison system because corrections officials had failed to revamp its internal affairs procedures.
"Maybe I should just call the judge and tell him to take the system over, '' she said.
E-mail Mark Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Judge 'Can Take' Prisons, Governor Says
August 17, 2004
IONE, Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, ruefully conceding the difficulty of running the state's troubled prison system, said that if a federal judge follows through on a threat to name a receiver to take charge of the prisons, "He can take it."
"It's no sweat off my back," the governor said Monday at a news conference after completing a tour of Mule Creek State Prison, about 40 miles southeast of Sacramento.
The governor was quick to add that he doesn't expect that to happen. He said he had a "wonderful" phone conversation recently with U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson who broached the prospect of a takeover in a letter to a top aide to the governor last month and sought to persuade him that his commitment to improving the prisons is genuine.
"He is 100% with us," Schwarzenegger said. "We will work together with him. I have the utmost respect for him, and together we can do it." Judge Henderson's office did not return a call for comment.
Schwarzenegger's remark touched off a swift reaction from critics of the correctional system.
State Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), who has led oversight hearings on the Department of Corrections this year, said: "It's surprising that the governor would say, 'It's no sweat off my back.' It's like saying, 'We failed and the courts must take over now because we're not going to be able to make the reforms.' I can't believe he really thinks that."
Donald Specter, executive director of the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit firm that has repeatedly sued the state over its treatment of inmates, said:
"I agree totally with the governor. The prison system is too big and too impaired by the California bureaucracy to function properly. It really needs a big jolt from somebody outside to bring about reform."
Specter added that he hopes the judge will "take the governor up on his suggestion."
Housing about 165,000 adult and juvenile offenders, California's penal system is the largest system of its kind in the nation and home to a powerful prison guards union.
In recent months, the $6-billion-a-year system has weathered a string of scandals and intense scrutiny in the Legislature and the courts.
Henderson had accused the Schwarzenegger administration of a "business as usual" approach toward the prison system. He was disturbed by a new labor agreement between the state and the guards union, in which Schwarzenegger won modest wage concessions over two years in return for new union protections and benefits amounting to millions of dollars.
Henderson suggested that the governor was neglecting '"systemic problems" that had been "condoned for many years by the highest levels of California officials."
This was not the first time Schwarzenegger has suggested that the prisons are a managerial nightmare. In April, he joked that California might consider outsourcing its prisons to Mexico or Vietnam.
A spokeswoman sought Monday to expand on Schwarzenegger's position. The governor wants an improved prison system, said Terry Carbaugh, a press aide, and "is saying that should the judge feel that he can accomplish that goal in a more expedient nature, so be it. We'll be right behind him in his effort, supporting him . "
That said, "if the burden remains on our shoulders which it is we'll move forward to reform the corrections system," Carbaugh said.
Schwarzenegger took pains at Mule Creek to portray himself as eager to find solutions. Standing alongside Matthew Cate, the prison system inspector general, and other corrections officials in a prison break room, he said he had tripled the budget for the inspector general's office, launched audits of the system and pressed for more accountability.
The governor also sought to explain the contract with the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., blaming the Legislature for the limitations.
Because lawmakers refused to roll back some $300 million in salary and benefits increases, as he had wanted, he said he had little leverage.
"I'm probably the only one in the Capitol who doesn't owe the unions anything, because I never took any money from them," Schwarzenegger said.
Speier suggested that the governor was passing the buck when it comes to the contract.
"He had the all-time high ratings for a governor," she said. "The stars were aligned for him to really undo what is by most people's description an absolutely absurd giveaway. And it didn't happen. And the union got everything they wanted again."
Schwarzenegger's visit to the prison had been carefully choreographed. A production team working for the governor had hung a large blue banner in the break room to hide vending machines and provide a more attractive backdrop for the governor's speech.
During his tour, the governor stood high in the watchtower that controls access to the electric fence surrounding the prison, as TV and news photographers took pictures from below. Other journalists were ordered to stand back.
Schwarzenegger described the system as profoundly troubled at the time he took office.
"When I became governor I found a system that was in disarray, wrapped in secrecy and with almost no accountability, financially or otherwise," he said.
Enforcing silence on the toughest beat in California
In November 2000, a correctional sergeant employed at Ironwood State Prison in Blythe (Riverside County) was struck on the back of the head with a club-like weapon. The stunned officer's jacket was then pulled over his head, and he was stabbed in the back and chest.
This is the textbook method used by prison gangs to maintain discipline within their ranks. What makes this stabbing more alarming is that it did not occur at the officer's prison workplace. He was stabbed in front of his home as he was preparing to leave for his job.
All he remembers about his assailants is their legs. They were wearing dark uniform pants tucked into boots in the same manner as those worn by members of Ironwood's elite Special Emergency Response Team of prison guards.
Many of the circumstances surrounding this appalling assault suggest that correctional officers were involved. Several weeks before his stabbing, the correctional sergeant was the victim of what prison officials euphemistically called a "hazing" by four fellow officers. He was thrown to the floor and punched several times. His head and body were taped and doused with water.
After obscenities were scrawled on his taped body and a photographic record was made of his humiliation, he was abandoned on the prison premises.
When the prison administrators learned of this "hazing," an internal affairs investigation was initiated, and the correctional sergeant was required to identify his tormentors. They were suspended.
Following these suspensions, the hapless correctional sergeant became the target of anonymous calls to his unlisted home telephone. The callers referred to him as a rat and a snitch. The day before he was stabbed, he received a call from a correctional lieutenant who demanded to know whether he was the one who had given the names of the suspended officers to the investigators. When he denied this, the correctional lieutenant said, "You're either real stupid or a real good liar."
Two days after his stabbing, he and his family listened to an unsettling musical message on their answering machine: "Come on, cowpokes, time to call gangster... time to die."
Thereafter, the correctional sergeant was given a safe but career-ending, desk job in Sacramento. His attackers remain unidentified and at large as this barely investigated incident slowly evaporates among the mildewed heaps of unsolved California correctional mysteries.
We are left to ask: Who are some of the people who work in our correctional system?
James Gomez, a former director of the California Department of Corrections, readily acknowledges that his erstwhile employees tended to demean each other. Gomez, a career bureaucrat, calls this negative interplay and believes it contributed to the existence of the harsh culture in our prisons.
A more comprehensive examination of this negative interplay exposes a California guard culture in which officers are largely critical of any form of permissiveness they see in each other. In this culture, the overriding approach to corrections is: If the prisoners are happy, you are not doing your job.
With this mind-set, one tends to lose sight of the fact that not all inmates are monsters and that many are merely incorrigible. Most inmates cling to the dream of a better future. When guards routinely crush these fragile aspirations, new sociopaths emerge snarling mad and uncorrected.
Ted Conover best described this process when he wrote in "Newjack" of his experiences as a correctional officer in New York's Sing Sing Prison:
"... Every man in this place hates and detests the system under which he lives ... He hates it because he knows it is bad; it tends to crush slowly but irresistibly the good in himself."
The dramatic surge in prison construction, combined with laws designed to keep these facilities full of lawbreakers, has given rise to a potent new breed of political powerbrokers -- the prison guards of California. They are organized and led by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
This union is generally recognized as the pre-eminent special interest group in California. Don Novey, their recently retired leader, was renowned for his chest-thumping mantra: "I represent 30,000 men and women who work the toughest beat in California."
The rank and file of the correctional officers union are sworn law enforcement officers. As sworn law enforcement officers, correctional officers take a public oath to uphold the law and to report all wrongdoings.
Recent history reveals that a growing number of these officers have also taken a private oath of secrecy frequently referred to as the code of silence. This is a corrupting code. In taking this covert pledge, correctional officers concurrently betray the public trust bestowed on them as sworn law enforcement officers. The code of silence is seductively simple: "Don't snitch and severely punish those who do snitch."
In a report filed in federal court in January, Special Master John Hagar found that officers who go to work for the California Department of Corrections are forced to adopt this code of silence. Hagar noted that "Rather than CDC staff correcting the prisoners, some correctional officers acquire a prisoner's mentality: They form gangs, align with gangs, and spread the code of silence." The code of silence serves no legitimate penological purpose. Instead, it is an engine of debasement that is transforming our correctional institutions into incubators of sadism and malice.
Hagar concluded in a report released last month that California's politically powerful prison guards union shuns whistleblowers, rewards rogue officers and forcefully impedes efforts to reform the state's corrections department. His report also condemned former prison administrators.
In the past, we have heard of the grisly body count of inmates brutalized and shot in California's prisons. Some of us wondered how our tacit ratification of these unprecedented levels of barbarity would be judged. Others shrugged and said: "We need bad guys to do bad things in these bad places to protect us."
In 1998, Novey glibly conceded to a legislative committee investigating the atrocities at Corcoran State Prison that the Department of Corrections has "psychological screening problems" in the hiring of staff. "You know," Novey testified, "we go through 40,000 applicants over a 24-month period. I can guarantee you, 10 or 15 out of 40,000 are psychos, and they slip through the system."
During his federal court hearings, Hagar found several instances in which the highest level of prison officials failed to discipline correctional officers because of "their fear of a CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association) reaction." As a consequence of this fear, Hagar concluded that "the directorate turned its head when confronted with the code of silence, especially if the CCPOA is involved."
As long as the correctional officers union and the Department of Corrections continue to tolerate the existence of the code of silence, California will suffer the odium of condoning a renegade prison system run, not by "10 to 15 psychos," but by an ever-expanding gang of unrestrained thugs.
In "Newjack," Conover asked: "What did it do to a man when his work consisted of breaking the spirit of other men?" We should also ask what our silent acquiescence does to us as a society.
Leroy Lounibos is a Petaluma lawyer who has represented prison guards
and the families of inmates in lawsuits against the state Department of
Rudy Bermudez opposes renegotiating
Saturday, May 29, 2004 - Most area legislators support renegotiating an 11-percent pay raise that 21,000 state prison guards are scheduled to get beginning July 1.
Two local legislators are among the 17 Democratic state senators who recently signed a letter opposing appropriating the money for the raises, which will cost the state nearly $200 million in fiscal 2005-06.
"It's our hope the contract will be renegotiated,' said state Sen. Jack Scott, D-Pasadena. "There are features in the contract that cost the taxpayers a great deal of money.'
Scott said he objected to a provision that provides guards with fitness pay without requiring them to pass a test and sick pay without a doctor's verification, unless the number of sick days is more than three.
The five-year contract began in 2002, but state law says if the Legislature fails to fund the raise, the state and the union are required to go back and renegotiate, said Richard Steffen, staff director for state Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco.
Speier was the author of the letter asking for renegotiation.
The money is in the budget, but the conference committee could take it out when it begins in its deliberations Tuesday.
Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Norwalk, also signed the letter asking the contract be renegotiated.
State Sen. Bob Margett, R-Diamond Bar, and Assembly members Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, and Bob Pacheco, R-Industry, who did not sign the letter, also say the raise needs to be pared down.
State Sen. Gloria Romero, D- East Los Angeles, didn't sign the letter, saying she didn't think it was necessary.
Romero said it was unnecessary since the governor and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association already were talking.
"I believe the proper way to deal with this issue is at the negotiating table,' she said.
Only Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, D-Norwalk, a member of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, opposes renegotiation, saying the state should abide by the agreement to avoid legal problems.
"If they're going to take a position on one employee contract, then it shows they are willing to take this position on any employee contract,' he said.
Most of the local legislators voted in favor of the contract in 2002. Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, R-Monrovia, voted against it.
The local lawmakers who voted for the contract denied they supported it because of the campaign money the California Correctional Peace Officers Association gave them. Mountjoy received no money from the union.
In the past six years, the association has contributed about $6.7 million to California politicians, according to campaign finance records filed with the secretary of state's office.
Margett is the largest recipient of campaign contributions among the local lawmakers. He received $75,000 during his 2000 campaign and has since received $2,500.
"Seventy-five thousand dollars doesn't buy me,' Margett said. "When entities contribute money, many times they want candidates for their fairness or ability to listen. Contributions made in the past do not necessarily buy votes.'
Scott has received $52,000 during the past six years, including a $50,000 contribution in 2000.
But the money didn't affect his vote at the time, he said.
"I get a lot of contributions from a whole host of groups, whether it's business or the insurance industry,' he said. "I very frequently vote against the insurance industry or unions when I don't feel it's in the public's interest.'
Some of the legislators who support renegotiation don't support eliminating the appropriation for the raise.
"I'm not taking that position,' said Pacheco. "We want to sit down and negotiate an agreement that's fair.'
Chu, a member of the conference committee, said she doesn't have a position on whether the money should be deleted from the budget.
But she does call for renegotiation, saying reforms are needed in the prisons.
"The system is broken with the abuse of inmates and code of silence,' Chu said. "There are obvious practices that have resulted in overruns on the budget.'
-- Mike Sprague can be reached at (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3022, or by e-mail at email@example.com .
News a 'Punch in the Face' for Guards
May 20, 2004
Bad news travels fast at Lancaster state prison. On Wednesday, the talk among guards was the unexpected word that state Senate Democrats may block their upcoming 11.3% pay raise.
"We here are hard-working people," said Ronnie Credle, 58, a 15-year correctional officer. "And they're trying to condemn us."
At issue is a five-year labor contract for the state's 31,000 correctional officers. On Tuesday, Democratic state senators ignoring years of unwavering support for the guards union announced that they have the votes to block a raise scheduled for July 1.
To eight-year Officer Jack Reiss, 61, it's about keeping promises. If the state reneges on the contract, he said, "then any contract in California isn't worth the paper it's printed on. I've always been raised that if you give your word, you bite the bullet and do what you said."
From prisons such as the maximum-security facility in Lancaster, 60 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, to the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. union headquarters in Sacramento, the reaction was angry and pugnacious.
"This is an unsolicited, bag over the head, punch in the face," said Lance Corcoran, the union's executive vice president. "Our members are frankly disgusted."
On a union website, President Mike Jimenez warned that he and other leaders were willing to play tough in court and through job actions if lawmakers deny the hike. "If you back us into a corner, you better believe we're going to come out swinging," he said.
Democrats announced Tuesday that 17 senators would fight the raise expected to cost about $250 million because California is in a fiscal crisis and cannot afford it.
Without those 17, the union would fail to have the two-thirds vote it needs for the increase to be reaffirmed in the Senate.
The five-year contract was approved in 2002, but because the state cannot commit to increase spending for more than one year at a time, two-thirds of the Legislature must approve every new raise.
"The Department of Corrections is an out-of-control spending machine," said state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), who led the effort in the Senate. "It's time to return to the bargaining table."
State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco), a longtime union supporter, said Wednesday he did not endorse unilaterally canceling the contract.
"If contracts are mutually agreed to, and then if you reopen them, in theory that ought to be mutual too. If they agree to open theirs that's fine. If they are coerced into opening theirs, it's a bad practice," he said.
"The correctional guards are an easy target just like MPs would be after what happened in Iraq. I find it difficult to blame a union for getting increased benefits and working conditions for their members when that's their job. If the deal was too sweet and too far-reaching, the blame should lie with the administration that gave it to them."
The unusual standoff is being encouraged by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who since last fall had been pushing the union to renegotiate the contract, so far without success.
Bruce Cain, a political scientist at UC Berkeley, called the senators' move "an act of political bravery," noting that the lawmakers were "angering a [campaign] funding source that has been very bountiful."
That said, Cain noted that legislators had the governor standing behind them and predicted they would also find support in the court of public opinion.
"I've felt for a long time that this contract was one of the great scandals of California politics," Cain said. "Everybody is making sacrifices this year, and in the public sector, a deal is never a deal. Every agreement is contingent on the political and economic circumstances. And if you play in this arena, you understand that."
Jimenez and other leaders said they had been willing to talk about concessions, but now feel double-crossed by legislators. They noted that all but one lawmaker had either voted for the contract or abstained in the 2002 vote.
"I think the tactics and direction they've taken are really damaging the process," he said. "In the end, I think they'll be disappointed and it won't bear fruit."
While most of their ire was directed at legislators, union leaders also have launched an attack on one of their own Roderick Q. Hickman, a former guard who is now Schwarzenegger's secretary for youth and adult corrections.
On Wednesday, union officials sent legislators a flier depicting Hickman's smiling face on a milk carton under the word "Missing." The text reads:
"Last seen running for cover after promising to clean up the mess at CDC, leaving line officers and department personnel to twist in the wind. Often found hiding under his desk in classic duck-and-cover fetal position."
Passed out along with the flier was a so-called "Rodney Buck," a mock dollar bill that ridicules a Hickman program urging prison employees to help close the budget deficit by trying to save a "dollar a day" in their workplace. The fake dollars bear Hickman's picture, the words "The Embarrassed State of California," and the phony signature of Speier.
Corcoran said the materials, which were also handed out to passersby in downtown Sacramento, reflect union members' belief that Hickman has failed to stand up for officers through a series of prison scandals and oversight hearings in the Legislature.
"All Rod has done so far is apologize for the men and women of corrections rather than talk about the challenges we face and the thousands of men and women who provide safety and service to California," Corcoran said. "It's extremely demoralizing to the troops."
A spokesman for Hickman said he was meeting with staff at prisons and parole offices in Southern California, and had not seen the flier.
At the Lancaster prison, rank-and-file guards feel the pay increase is well-deserved, said union chapter official Rocky Stroud. "They were shocked. They were angry. They were appalled . It's such a letdown to these guys."
There was a sense of betrayal that was compounded, officers said, by a feeling that their work never receives the same respect as other public safety occupations. It has become a convenient scapegoat for lawmakers, given recent allegations of inmate abuse, financial mismanagement and a "code of silence" among some employees in the nation's largest state prison system, they said.
"It's like Iraq they say we have a 'prison scandal' out there, but we've got a lot of guys out there busting their [behinds]," said Officer Michael Audette, who was taking a break while prisoners went through a lunchtime head count. "They say there's a 'prison scandal' in California, but it's just a few bad guys."
Throughout the 4,400-inmate Lancaster lockup Wednesday, corrections officers said it was a shame that lawmakers didn't understand the value of watching over some of the state's most brutal felons.
Set on the barren Mojave Desert floor, the prison employs 697 guards. Last year, employees were attacked by prisoners 83 times. This year, there have been 10 assaults.
"There's no limit, really, to what you could really see in here," said Officer Robert Yslava, 40.
Yslava said he became a guard last year after his stepfather, now a retired guard, described the lucrative promises in the 2002 labor contract.
With the raises in mind, Yslava purchased a house in the Inland Empire and had his first child while he was in the four-month officers' academy.
"Now, we come to find out it's all up in the air," he said. "They only thing we can do is take it day by day."
Inmate Vernon Gibson said he hadn't heard about the controversy. But when asked if the guards deserved a raise, the 51-year-old lifer paused thoughtfully.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "I wouldn't do their job for all the money in the world."
Posted on Fri, May. 07, 2004
Guards the ones doing 'Hard Time,' union says
FOLSOM, Calif. - Suzi Jones was alone in the barber shop here at the maximum security prison commonly known as New Folsom, when an inmate entered and began beating her without saying a word.
"I knew he was going to kill me," she says in a television advertisement for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Other inmates shielded the beating from fellow officers, who eventually noticed the assault and rescued her.
A photograph of her multihued facial bruises taken shortly after the March 18 beating adorns a flier and television ad, making her the face of the guard union's media campaign countering recent extensive bad publicity.
A month after national networks repeatedly aired videotape of two union members beating two wards at a Stockton youth facility, the powerful union is fighting back with video images of riots and guards being attacked by inmates.
The wealthy, politically influential union is doubling its usual annual media budget this year to $1 million, half the money going to air the advertisements, said Vice President Lance Corcoran.
"We work in a world that the public can't even begin to imagine," Jones says in her 30-second TV spot. About nine guards a day are assaulted to varying degrees somewhere in California, about half with makeshift weapons, state figures show.
Statistics compiled by the California Department of Corrections for The Associated Press show a significant increase in assaults over the past year at two of the state's six most troublesome prisons, but no major change at the other four.
There were an even dozen at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran, the first three months of last year. That jumped to 20 in the final three months of 2003 and to 21 the first three months of this year.
California State Prison, Los Angeles County, recorded 20 assaults the first three months of 2003 and 23 from October through November. But there were 31 the first three months of this year.
On April 2, a guard there was knocked the ground and repeatedly kicked in the head and body by at least four inmates. He was flown to a hospital unconscious and with brain swelling.
"He almost bought it," said department spokeswoman Margot Bach. "They were kicking him in the head. Some of those guys just don't care."
The increase in assaults isn't dramatic, but "they're more severe," Bach said.
Corcoran and David Darchuk, union president at the Stockton youth facility, contend inmates have been emboldened to attack guards by the adverse publicity, including a series of critical state Senate hearings, media exposes and a federal court-appointed monitor's finding that an system-wide "code of silence" protects wrongdoers while punishing whistleblowers.
"There's a feeling there's a green light to attack staff. The inmates are being portrayed as victims here," Corcoran said.
Kings County Chief Deputy District Attorney Patrick Hart, whose jurisdiction includes Corcoran State Prison and the adjacent substance abuse treatment facility, offered an alternate explanation that inmates are upset at recent new restrictions on smoking and other activities.
"They don't take that philosophically. They view that as their constitutional right," Hart said. "We're seeing assaults going up dramatically. We're seeing more severe assaults, too."
While the treatment facility assaults increased by nine from a year ago, the state statistics attacks at neighboring Corcoran increased from 29 in the first quarter of last year to 33 during the first three months of this year. There were 32 assaults during the last three months of 2003.
The statistics showed just one additional assault this year compared to last year at Pelican Bay State Prison - where guards were accused of covering up abuses of inmates - and at Salinas Valley State Prison, where some rogue guards formed their own gang-like Green Wall organization to intimidate inmates and fellow employees.
At California State Prison, Sacramento, known as "New Folsom," assaults were down slightly: 44 this year compared to 45 during the same period last spring, and down from 47 in October through December.
New Folsom isolates many of the system's most troublesome or mentally ill inmates in pie-shaped concrete cellblocks. The inmates are considered so unpredictable that they are moved individually, often hooded with mesh "spit shields." Guards wear stab-proof vests and riot-style clear plastic face visors to ward off "gassings," a particularly noxious and potentially dangerous spray of urine mixed with feces.
The prison was built in 1986 20 miles east of Sacramento, adjacent to the ancient Folsom State Prison made famous by country singer Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues."
"Old Folsom," built in 1878, was the scene of a 2002 riot that Senate witnesses say was instigated by prison staff and then covered up. The riot remains under federal investigation.
Corcoran and union President Mike Jimenez ushered reporters through both prisons Friday to illustrate the conditions the union's 31,000 members face each day, and to try to ward off potential prison closures and a scaling back of a lucrative and controversial labor contract negotiated by former Gov. Gray Davis.
The media tour organized by a public relations firm included coffee and pastries in the morning, a catered lunch at noon, and copies of a new half-hour documentary, "Hard Time," that the union is buying time to air on television stations statewide.
ON THE NET
Oversight committees: www.sen.ca.gov/oversight
California Department of Corrections: http://www.corr.ca.gov/
California Correctional Peace Officers Association: http://www.ccpoanet.org/
Editorial: Lockyer takes on guards
The challenged provision requires prison authorities to turn over inmate allegations made against a guard immediately after the complaint is received, even before an investigation has commenced or anyone has been charged. Lockyer argues that the provision violates state law, that defendants in criminal proceedings cannot force investigators to turn over confidential investigative materials until charges are filed.
In addition to the legal issues, the practical problems of such a provision are obvious. It requires investigators to tell a suspect he's under suspicion before investigators can be sure a crime was committed.
For example, suppose an inmate tells authorities that a certain guard is smuggling drugs into a prison. Before investigators can search the guard, put him under surveillance or plant a hidden audio or video recorder to confirm the inmate's statement, investigators would have to inform the guard of the allegation. Such premature disclosure effectively shuts down the investigation before it even begins. It also exposes the inmate informant to retaliation.
In defense of the contract, guards argue they are the frequent targets of false, malicious and frivolous inmate complaints. That is true. But the best way to protect innocent guards is to permit an independent verification of the facts of each and every inmate allegation, not to shut down investigations.
In the case involving the attorney general, prison internal affairs officers videotaped statements from inmates who accused guards of excessive force. Citing the contract, the guards union demanded that officials turn over the tapes.
Justifiably fearing that their case would be compromised if they turned over the information before they got a chance to interrogate the accused officers, internal affairs investigators refused. They gave the tapes to the attorney general instead and the union sued.
An arbitrator brought in to settle the dispute sided with the union. But that opinion is narrow. It is limited to a review of the terms of the contract, not whether those terms are valid or legal. In his lawsuit, Lockyer argues persuasively that they are neither. If the court agrees with him, an outrageous provision of the guards contract will be invalidated. If the court does not, one more thing will be added to the list of contract provision that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration needs to change.
Suit Aims to Keep Prison Probe Records From Union
May 4, 2004
SACRAMENTO Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer sued Monday to block the California prison guards union from obtaining internal affairs documents, saying the state's ability to investigate wrongdoing by employees behind prison walls could be undermined.
Lockyer filed the suit after an arbitrator sided with the union in a dispute over a provision in the prison officers' labor contract with the state. The arbitrator concluded that the contract required internal affairs investigators and, by extension, the state Department of Justice to turn the material over to the union and to the subjects of investigations.
The provision has been part of the contract for 15 years, but was expanded during Gov. Gray Davis' tenure.
The California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. long has been among the most influential political forces in the state. But Lockyer's suit comes as the organization is on the defensive, fending off legislative oversight hearings and efforts by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to force guards to take a pay cut to help the state close its budget gap.
The internal affairs issue arose when the Department of Corrections ordered that internal affairs investigators divulge information to the union representing correctional officers suspected of roughing up inmates at Chino state prison two years ago. The internal affairs officers refused, and called in state Justice Department investigators to take over the case.
After a lengthy closed-door proceeding, arbitrator Joseph Freitas Jr., a former San Francisco district attorney, ordered that the state turn over at least some details of the investigation.
Freitas ordered that the state divulge the "name of complainant, name of the employee complained of, gist of incident or behavior complained of that could reasonably result in noncriminal discipline against the employee(s), and time and location of incident and behavior."
His ruling is dated April 8. The decision became public Monday, when Lockyer filed his challenge in Sacramento Superior Court.
The justice department says in its suit that if the arbitrator's ruling is allowed to stand, current and future investigations could be stymied. Unless the court intervenes, the suit says, the Department of Personnel Administration and Department of Corrections will be forced to divulge records they possess related to the investigation.
"The release of such evidence and/or information will cause irreparable harm to the Department of Justice in that its independent criminal investigation process will be compromised," the suit says.
The suit adds that the "release of such information would jeopardize the ability of the Department of Justice to fully and fairly investigate allegations of criminal conduct involving correctional peace officers."
Lance Corcoran, executive vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., said the union had no desire to protect wrongdoing, but was obligated to ensure that internal affairs investigators treat correctional officers fairly.
"Some people don't understand that these inmates might have reason to make false allegations against correctional officers to manipulate their lives. Imagine that," Corcoran said.
Lockyer did not respond to phone calls Monday evening.
J.P. Tremblay, assistant director for communications of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, said that if Lockyer's suit "will help move a criminal investigation forward, he is doing the right thing. We want to make sure that nothing we do will impede a criminal investigation."
State Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), who has been leading a legislative oversight effort on the prison system with Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), praised Lockyer's move, saying, "It goes to a fundamental principle whether a contract is going to trump criminal law."
The case began when Supervising Special Agent Steve Mihalyi, a Department of Corrections internal affairs investigator, refused to divulge details about the probe to the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn.
In testimony in legislative hearings last year, Mihalyi alleged that the union had pressured top department officials to demand that he turn over investigation files. He refused, contending that it would have endangered witnesses and damaged the inquiry. Rather than comply with his boss' commands, he sought help from a state Department of Justice attorney, who agreed to take custody of the files.
"I felt the integrity of the investigation was at stake," Mihalyi told legislators, explaining why he refused to turn over the material. "I felt the integrity of internal affairs was at stake."
AG asks court to strike down disclosure provision in guards contract
Monday, May 3, 2004
(05-03) 19:15 PDT SACRAMENTO (AP) --
The attorney general's office asked a Sacramento court Monday to strike down a provision in the prison guards' contract with the state that requires disclosure of information to a guard who's the target of a criminal investigation.
The lawsuit stems from a grievance filed by the guards' union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, seeking to obtain "confidential investigative materials" about assault allegations made against officers at the California Institution for Men in Chino in 2002, the office said.
The CCPOA's contract with the state includes a provision requiring the Department of Corrections to immediately disclose confidential information about an investigation to a guard as soon as he or she is accused of wrongdoing.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office said the contract conflicts with a portion of criminal law that says the only way a defendant can force law enforcement agencies or prosecutors to release information about an investigation is to file a court motion after charges have been filed.
Hallye Jordan, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer, said the lawsuit was not "an attack on the collective bargaining process, but an effort to obtain compliance with public policy."
"The collective bargaining statutes governing private and public sector workers do not authorize parties to agree to binding provisions that would have the effect of violating or ignoring criminal statutes," she said.
"If the court agrees with (the department's) position in this matter the parties to the CCPOA collective bargaining agreement would be free to renegotiate a new provision to protect employee due process rights without contravening state Penal Code provisions."
Representatives of the CCPOA could not be reached late Monday for comment.
©2004 Associated Press
Editorial: A contract with disaster
The state is cutting basic services and mortgaging its future by borrowing to cover budget shortfalls. At the same time, the prison system continues to be over budget year after year. And the Legislature continues to approve supplemental funds to cover cost overruns, no questions asked.
Improved administration of the system is essential, but it alone can't fix this problem. The cost overruns are largely structural, the result of specific provisions in the prison guard contract that encourage unrestrained use of sick leave, the largest single driver of escalating overtime costs.
The administrations of Govs. Pete Wilson and Gray Davis did the state a disservice in accepting the last two contracts with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union that represents prison guards. The Legislature did the same when its members approved these contracts.
Now it is up to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers to remedy the situation by renegotiating several provisions:
Section 11.08b. Overtime.
It used to be that a guard had to work more than 40 hours in a week to get overtime pay. But that was changed so guards can get overtime pay in a week they call in sick.
Here's how it works: Say a guard calls in sick on Monday, earning pay for staying home, but then works more than eight hours Tuesday. That gives him overtime pay for Tuesday. It also gives another guard the opportunity to earn overtime pay for covering his shift Monday. This contract provision alone immediately added 1 million overtime hours and increased overtime costs by 27 percent.
Section 12.05A. Voluntary Overtime by Seniority.
This provision distributes overtime by seniority, with no yearly cap. Since senior guards receive higher pay than newer guards, this provision costs more than evenly distributing overtime among all guards. The provision is the chief reason that 350 guards in 2003 earned more than $100,000. At the California Correctional Center, a minimum-custody facility in Lassen County in northeastern California, 55 of 511 full-time guards earned more than $100,000 in 2003.
Section 10.02.A3. Sick Leave Accrual.
When a regular guard calls in sick, the prison attempts to get a replacement from a pool of "permanent intermittent" employees before scheduling regular guards for overtime - normally a cost saver. But the new contract granted these employees a new right to use sick leave. Now if you're in this pool, if the prison calls and you say you're sick, you get paid for that eight-hour day. The prison not only pays you but also any others in the pool who say they're sick - plus the person who ultimately agrees to work that day. The prison can end up paying several people to cover one absence.
Section 10.02.D. Extraordinary Use of Sick Leave.
The old contract had a management tool to monitor and discourage misuse of sick leave. That provision was eliminated in the new contract with immediate consequences: Guards called in 500,000 more sick leave hours in the first year, a bump of 30 percent.
The old provision should be restored.
It allowed legitimate use of sick leave - prescheduled and approved medical/dental/family care appointments, including long-term medical care; situations where the guard reported to work but was sent home for being too sick to work; extended sick leave situations resulting from injury, major illness or pregnancy. But it also established a list of guards who showed patterned abuse of sick leave - such as calling in sick on Fridays or Mondays to take a long weekend.
Any guard on the list had to provide a medical verification for a sick leave absence - which had to be gotten from a health professional in person. A guard got off the list by following the rules for six months.
Schwarzenegger already has laid the legal groundwork for renegotiating the contract with the union by listing each state employee contract as a separate item in his budget proposal. Now it's up to the Legislature to do its part.
Under state law, if the Legislature doesn't pass legislation to provide sufficient funding to implement a contract, the parties have to renegotiate. Lawmakers should trigger that provision.
In these difficult budget times, when the state is contemplating cuts to higher education, health programs for the elderly, public assistance for the poor and disabled and more, legislators have to be willing to look at state employee contracts as an extraordinary measure in extraordinary times. Renegotiation doesn't mean the contract and its provisions are null and void; it just means the parties return to the table and bargain in good faith.
Of course, the parties can voluntarily decide to return to the bargaining table rather than waiting for that legislative trigger. The Schwarzenegger administration clearly is ready to do so. The union also has expressed willingness to renegotiate.
That's encouraging, but so far there is no apparent progress toward the bargaining table. And progress is what's needed.
Prison system cost overruns are hurting the state's ability to fund other essential state services from education to roads to health care. Renegotiating contract provisions now is in the best interests of all Californians.
It also is in the best interests of the union. If the CCPOA prison guards resist renegotiating this contract, they will be thumbing their noses at taxpayers, other public employees, schoolchildren, the poor and everyone else who relies on the state for essential services.
No union can afford to thumb its nose at the entire state when shared sacrifice is called for - not even a union with the Legislature in its pocket.
Editorial: Unholy triad drives costs
How is it possible that overtime costs for California's prison guards alone have nearly tripled in just six years - from $53 million in 1997 to $143 million in 2003?
The answer lies in irrational management practices and equally irrational provisions in the state's contract with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union that represents prison guards. Together, these irrational elements produce costs that are out of control.
The crisis in overtime costs is, in other words, the product of problems across the California corrections system. To see why only a systemwide approach will work to fix the prisons' troubles, consider this triad of factors, some related to management and some to the contract, and how they work together to raise overtime costs.
Factor 1: Guards can't easily take days off.
Prisons don't shut down for holidays, so many prison guards work during the state's 13 holidays, such as Christmas and New Year's. Guards who work on holidays get "holiday credits," which they bank to be used in the future.
But when guards want to use this banked leave to take a day off on short notice, they are typically refused. Guards generally must request days off 30 to 90 days in advance. So the guards look for ways to get time off. And that search leads them to the second leg of the triad.
Factor 2: Sick leave.
When they can't use their leave legitimately, guards often call in sick when they want a day off for personal reasons such as attending a child's soccer game or a friend's funeral.
This is not a secret. In an April 2000 Corrections Department survey, a guard commented: "New staff are routinely told, 'If you want time off, you have to call in sick to get it.' " Another said, "Use your heads and wake up management. We only use sick leave when you leave us no other options."
The Bureau of State Audits described the problem this way in a Jan. 2000 report: "These limited opportunities for custody staff to use their accumulated leave on short notice discourages them from using leave, may contribute to low employee morale and encourages the questionable use of such leave."
The result: Sick leave use by guards in 2003 averaged 8.5 hours per guard per month - when the department budgets for 5 hours a month. (There's reason to doubt these numbers, which come from the Department of Corrections, but that's a topic for another day.)
Obviously, this is not a sensible way to run a public agency, particularly one that is so critical to public safety. But the issue with sick time goes deeper than mere questions of appropriate management. Lack of ability to take time off and resulting use of sick time are prime drivers of the third leg of the triad.
Factor 3: Use of overtime.
In a prison, when a guard calls in sick, another guard has to cover that position. There are some part-time relief guards, but regular guards also are called in from their regularly scheduled days off. They get paid overtime for filling in for a sick colleague. And the contract gives guards with the most seniority (and thus the highest salaries) first shot at any overtime, so this costs more than evenly distributing overtime across all guards.
See why guard overtime costs have risen from $53 million in 1997 to $143 million in 2003?
See why only a systemwide solution will fix the problem?
So what would such a solution look like? Let's start with the management side.
Corrections officials should make it easier to take days off and reward guards for using low amounts of sick leave. For example, the state could say any guard who has used fewer than five hours sick leave in the last month can take time off with 48 hours notice. Or assign mandatory days off - allowing management to plan for coverage ahead of time. The goal has to be to ensure that guards use all the leave they've earned each year.
In the business world, companies routinely track overtime trends weekly, monthly, yearly - and take steps when it appears overtime is busting the budget. The information to do such monitoring exists for the prison system, but isn't effectively being used as a management tool.
In 1999, then-chief of personnel automation systems Richard Krupp prepared reports for each prison, including comparisons among the state's 33 prisons on per guard holiday credit accumulations, sick leave usage and overtime dollars earned. This information was (and is) easily mined from the State Controller's Office payments database. Krupp presented these reports to the cabinet, deputy directors, regional administrators, wardens and associate wardens of business services.
Krupp had the right approach: "In theory, if California Department of Corrections were operationally sound, fiscal issues would be more likely to fall in place." Despite these presentations five years ago, the Corrections Department still has not made effective use of this information to get the triad under control.
With a new governor and new Corrections Department leadership, transforming prison management - based on real data and research - should be a top priority.
The department - and the Legislature - should begin by treating each warden like any department head, doing quarterly and annual evaluations. As managers, wardens should be making sure guards use all their leave each year and keeping sick leave and overtime within budget. The state needs wardens who are as adept at managing the business of the prison as managing the inmates.
The department should send a strong message: If you can't run the business operation, maybe you should hold the No. 2 position at the prison, not the top job.
Currently, the Corrections Department is very decentralized, with headquarters exercising very little oversight or control over the state's 33 prison facilities. When it reports to the Legislature, the department presents only overall data - never a prison-by-prison report. This needs to change. The department needs to conduct a top to bottom review of each prison and take a hard look at which prisons aren't working and why.
The governor and department leaders should move quickly to put management reforms in place. Once that is done, it will be time to tackle the issues raised by the guards' contract.
It's more than just a contract
The state's dysfunctional prison system needs a systemic solution.
(Updated Sunday, April 25, 2004, 5:58 AM)
California's prison guards' union says it is willing to make pay concessions in exchange for more say over prison closings and future staff levels.
Yes, the state needs to renegotiate its contract with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. The current provisions relating to prison guard salaries, hours and overtime costs are irrational and need revision.
But the guards' contract alone is not the source of the budget crisis in the prison system. Giving the union more say over prison closings and staffing in return for pay concessions could save money in the short run, but it would further limit the state's power to sensibly manage a prison system that already is unconscionably mismanaged. In the long run that would make it even harder for the state to get control of costs.
In order to get prison costs under control, it's necessary to understand that the prison guards' contract is part of a larger problem. For years, both the executive and legislative branches of state government have failed to meet their responsibilities with regard to the state's prisons.
The contract didn't materialize out of thin air. It exists because the administration of former Gov. Gray Davis and members of the Legislature lacked the courage to stand up to the union, which is one of the most powerful forces in California politics.
The Department of Corrections has magnified the contract's effects. It has failed to institute basic management practices that would track and reduce key costs, such as overtime. It has not held prison wardens accountable for their management decisions.
And the Legislature has, until recently, masked the contract's excesses. Lawmakers, always willing to cater to the politically powerful union, have ignored overspending and blithely approved supplemental budgets.
So there is plenty of blame to go around. But with the state in fiscal crisis, it's not enough to assign blame. What's needed is a plan to attack the systemwide crisis in the prisons with systemwide reforms. Some parts of that plan should already be obvious.
Renegotiate key provisions of the contract that clearly contribute to wasteful overtime spending.
Institute sensible management practices that improve the situation rather than make it worse.
Use readily available information from the state controller's office to create monthly and annual reports on each prison to hold wardens accountable for managing expenditures, including overtime.
Pass a budget and make it clear that the days of the Legislature routinely covering cost overruns are over.
We'll have more to say about these and other ideas in future editorials.
But for any ideas to work, everyone -- the governor, corrections officials, lawmakers and the public -- must acknowledge that the present situation is unacceptable and that it's time to get the corrections system -- not just one part of it -- under control.
The only way to do that is to tackle the job across the prison system -- to change not only the contract but thee practices of the Corrections Department and the prevailing attitude in the Legislature. To see why, just look at the unholy triad of contract provisions and management practices that drive up overtime costs.
Los Angeles Daily News
Guards are all about big power
Saturday, April 17, 2004 -
When the California prison guard union recently offered to consider lower raises in exchange for certain powers -- like a say in which prisons might close -- it was a reminder that the union sees the Legislature as a mere tool.
It is well to remember that the guards require no more than a GED and simple training, fail to control gangs or raging drug use in certain prisons (indeed, some guards probably help get drugs past the gates) and practice a code of silence.
Forget giving this union a beachhead in management. Rumors that weaker wardens allow the union a bigger role than ordering paper clips is worry enough.
Last year, I called experts nationwide to find out who, exactly, the union had copied. But I couldn't find a guard union in America like the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Only our legislators so fear this rich union's ability to hector them out of office that most carry out its orders like bag men working for the mob.
Former state Sen. Richard Polanco, a Los Angeles Democrat, was among very few to frequently attack it. The powerful Polanco, facing term limits in Sacramento, was driven out of a race for Los Angeles City Council in 2001 by a leak to reporters about his illegitimate child. The Los Angeles Times reported the guards had targeted Polanco. The union denied involvement in the leaks. In Sacramento, few believe that.
Polanco warned later, "They put fear into people. (Legislators) will do whatever the union wants for fear it will come after them."
Eventually, the union will trip up. Somebody will say, enough! and dark stories of political manipulation will tumble out.
Until then, a few tough Democrats are challenging the union, led by Sen. Jackie Speier of Hillsborough and Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles.
"The prison guards have extraordinary power over politicians in California," Speier says. "Why do you think district attorneys in California won't take cases with videos showing prison guards hitting inmates 40 and 50 times? ... D.A.'s won't prosecute because in Kings County, a D.A. who took on a correctional guard was targeted, and he was driven out of office."
Gray Davis, Speier says, "turned the keys over to the guards, in virtually every way. Their contract is a blank check -- it takes controls away from the wardens."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger must undo Davis' damage, beginning with the guards' whopping 37 percent raise. But it's troubling that Tim Virga, the state's negotiator if talks are reopened, is a former guard and union negotiator, still in the union.
Speier, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Government Oversight, says, "It's a conflict of interest, and I have told the administration I oppose that negotiator."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Personnel Administration says only Speier has criticized the choice. "Tim's understanding of the prison side is an asset," she said.
Perhaps. But this department has a history of screw-ups. Richard Steffen, Speier's staff director, says that in 2002, state negotiators "got rolled" by a "far better staffed, better prepared and better resourced" union team. This in a state with a budget of some $70 billion? Pathetic. Let's hope the reopened contract doesn't turn into Davis II.
Here's how bad the current contract is:
The guards get a roughly $200 million raise now. Same thing next year and the year following. They get extra vacation, plus overtime and sick pay loopholes.
It's freighted with bizarre concessions. If management phones an "intermittent" guard (substitutes for sick guards), but the "intermittent" officer claims to be sick too, the intermittent guy gets paid. Quoting Steffen, so we're clear: "If they call an intermittent officer at home to replace a sick guard, and the intermittent officer says, 'No, I'm sick,' the intermittent officer gets paid as if they worked."
Why did the Legislature agree to such garbage? Fear.
Take the legislative race between Republicans Sharon Runner and Phil Wyman. The guards spent $260,000 to oust Wyman. Wyman's sin? He supported private prison programs, defying union orders. So Wyman was taught a lesson.
Speier and Romero are not just doing their jobs, they're being heroic.
The question is whether our governor, a quick study in all things business, has fully grasped that the guards don't mean business. They mean power, and they mean to take as much as they can.
Jill Stewart is a print, radio and television commentator on California politics. She can be reached via her Web site, www.jillstewart.net
Guards tell state they might deal on pay cut
In the high-stakes posturing that's been going on for months between Schwarzenegger's administration and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, a letter sent Friday by the union marks the first time officials have signaled that pay cuts could be acceptable in exchange for other commitments on job security.
Mike Jimenez, president of the union, faxed administration officials a letter that said his 28,000 members would be "interested in obtaining a global agreement" that opened a number of issues to negotiation.
"A global agreement is necessary from our perspective since, as you know, any agreement affecting members' compensation needs to be ratified by a vote of our membership," said Jimenez's letter, which went to the Department of Personnel Administration and legislative leaders.
"Without addressing all relevant issues such as layoffs, transfers and institutional closures, the prospects of the membership ratifying such an agreement is slim."
The letter also said that the union needs assurances that a renegotiated contract "will stick" until the contract expires in 2006 and that the administration doesn't "intend to seek serial negotiations over our contract."
Neither the Department of Personnel Administration nor anyone on Schwarzenegger's staff would comment on the letter, but sources said it was unlikely the administration would add issues such as prison closings to any discussion on wages and fringe benefits.
Schwarzenegger, who has said repeatedly that he's not beholden to the union because - unlike past governors - he won't take CCPOA campaign contributions, wants to cut several hundred million dollars from a pay and benefits package approved by the Legislature and former Gov. Gray Davis in 2001.
The pact has drawn criticism because it allows guards' pay to increase about 35 percent over five years.
"I believe it is in the best interest of the state and your membership," the administration wrote union leaders last month, "to explore contract concessions as possible alternatives to the fiscal crisis within (the state prison system.)"
In past statements, union officials have suggested the department could save millions by cutting waste or by slashing salaries of top corrections bureaucrats.
But Schwarzenegger has been applying more pressure to the union in recent weeks.
Last week, for instance, in a move interpreted around the Capitol to show Schwarzenegger means business, his Finance Department sent out letters notifying state employee unions that each of their pay packages would be listed in the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The move invites legislators and the governor to underfund the contracts in the state budget and force the unions to negotiate concessions.
The Republican governor has also appointed a committee to recommend a variety of corrections reforms that include possible prison closings because the state's inmate population has been shrinking.
Both moves are seen as a threat to the powerful correctional officers union, which in recent years has contributed millions of dollars to the campaigns of state and local officials.
In Jimenez's letter, he suggested the idea of a "global" agreement comes directly from Schwarzenegger's own words.
The letter quotes a Schwarzenegger interview with a reporter in which the governor said he has to look at "the whole picture" when negotiating with the CCPOA. "Which means that you have to look at the problems that are potentially coming up. And all the things that you're negotiating."
"We completely agree with the governor's view and would like to proceed along the lines," Jimenez wrote in the letter to the Department of Personnel Administration's labor relations officer, Tim Virga. "We do not think that it is reasonable for you, as the governor's agent, to expect us to ignore the governor's stated method of negotiation and proceed in any other manner."
Jimenez did not return a reporter's phone calls seeking comment, but Lance Corcoran, the union's vice president and spokesman, said the administration negotiators have not shown that they're prepared to do anything other than demand concessions.
"They can't answer the questions that have been listed in Mike's letter," Corcoran said.
The Bee's Gary Delsohn can be reached at (916) 326-5545 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
April 2, 2004
SACRAMENTO Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday turned up the pressure on the prison guards union to accept a pay cut, effectively inviting the Legislature to cut the $201.4-million raise that guards are scheduled to receive.
Using a rather arcane bureaucratic procedure, Schwarzenegger notified the Legislature that he has changed the way employees' pay is displayed in the state budget. By specifying the amounts that each of 21 state employee unions stands to receive in the fiscal year beginning July 1, the governor is making those sums vulnerable to cuts. If legislators don't trim the raises, he can use his line-item veto authority to do so.
A top Schwarzenegger administration official said the maneuver was aimed at the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., which has one of the richest contracts.
"We're disappointed that they haven't more seriously engaged at the bargaining table," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Schwarzenegger, facing a $14-billion budget deficit, has called on state employee unions to reopen their contracts and defer at least some of their raises. The administration official said the letter underscored that "the governor is serious about the bargaining units getting serious about reopening negotiations" over their existing contracts.
The union declined to discuss the letter.
The document lists raises for various bargaining units that range from a few hundred thousand dollars to $14.1 million for state firefighters, $68.7 million for Highway Patrol officers and $201.4 million for the 31,000-member California Correctional Peace Officers Union.
Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said that the Legislature intended to cut the Department of Corrections budget by $400 million and that a chunk could come from reductions in the guards' raises.
The Schwarzenegger letter follows an opinion by the legislative counsel's office saying that automatic raises are illegal because the Legislature must make a specific appropriation to cover the cost of each raise each year.
Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation in 2002 approving the five-year contract his aides negotiated with the guards' union, which donated $1.4 million directly and indirectly to his campaign account during his first term.
Under that contract, guards stand to receive an 11.3% raise in the coming year, on top of a 6.8% raise this year. Over its life, the contract could give prison officers a raise of 37% or more, boosting a veteran officer's annual pay to more than $73,000.
Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), who has been critical of the correctional officers' contract, said Thursday that after briefings from the Schwarzenegger administration, she believed the letter appeared to be setting up the contract for closer review by the Legislature.
"It draws a stark comparison among the various bargaining units," Speier said. "It establishes what we know that correctional peace officers got an extraordinary deal that was not properly understood by the Legislature"
Only one legislator Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) voted against the contract in 2002.
At the time, the Davis administration Department of Finance put the five-year cost of the deal at $521 million. The Assembly Appropriations Committee placed the cost at $1.3 billion over the life of the contract.
The Schwarzenegger administration recently placed the cost at $2 billion over the contract's life.
Speier, who voted for the contract, said Thursday that she intended to press other legislators to reconsider the contract.
"We've all learned a very important lesson," Speier said.
By far the bulk of the prison guards' pay raise $199.3 million in the 2004-2005 fiscal year would come from the state's $76-billion general fund.
The general fund, filled with money from taxes on income, sales and corporate profits, is used for general programs including education, healthcare for poor people and prisons. When legislators impose spending cuts, they generally pare back general fund programs.
The bargaining unit that comes closest in general fund cost is a 43,000-member union that includes analysts, auditors and an array of rank-and-file state workers. The cost of its increase will be $38.8 million.
Prison-guard union's political clout
Sacramento -- When Sen. Jackie Speier unveiled a strategy to force California's politically well-connected prison guards union to redo its costly labor contract with the state, she faced immediate opposition from a lawmaker who is still a member of that union.
Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, D-Norwalk (Los Angeles County), publicly quarreled with Speier, D-Hillsborough, during a hearing earlier this month when the Bay Area senator said she planned to ensure the state would never "be burned again" by the kind of contract guards received in 2002, which is doling out big raises this year while California faces a giant budget deficit.
Bermudez said he was defending all state employee contracts when he attacked Speier's call for the Legislature to overturn the guards pact. But Bermudez also is a former parole agent, who was one of those employees just two years ago. And an amendment to the contract, created specifically for Bermudez when he was elected in November 2002, allows him to return to his old job once he leaves elected office in Sacramento. It's a position that would enjoy the raises and generous pension benefits the contract calls for.
The California Correctional Peace Officers Association has long been one of the most powerful players in Sacramento because of its lavish spending on political campaigns. But a close look at the union's other connections shows a well-entrenched special interest that is positioned to have tremendous impact on efforts to reform California prisons, as well as affecting efforts by Speier and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to reopen the guards' contract:
-- An official who is expected to be a key negotiator for the state if the guards' contract is reopened said at a Senate hearing earlier this month that he may return to a previous job at Folsom State Prison, where he would be paid under the terms of the contract.
-- A union lobbyist who joined the state Senate as a staffer worked on warden confirmations and at least two bills that were priorities for the union. He left the Senate and is now back earning money from the union.
None of these relationships seems to violate state conflict-of-interest laws, but many government watchers find them troubling.
"These don't appear to be legal questions, but they are legitimate ethical issues: Where do these people's loyalties lie?'' asked Bob Stern, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies.
Bermudez said he sees no reason to recuse himself from any legislative vote on the contract, noting he has received legal advice allowing him to make decisions on prison issues despite his past -- and future -- job. "I was defending all contracts the state has with employees,'' he said in a later interview. "The point is, we can't go back on contracts that have already been signed.''
While Bermudez said he represents the residents of his Los Angeles area district, not the union of which he remains a dues-paying member, he nonetheless took an unusually prominent role in defending the union's contract at Speier's March 4 Senate hearing. Members of the Assembly rarely sit in on Senate hearings.
Finance officials now say the deal, approved by lawmakers and Gov. Gray Davis two years ago, will add as much as $2 billion to prison costs by giving guards potentially more than 37 percent raises over the life of the five-year pact.
Should Speier or the governor succeed in getting the union back to the bargaining table, they will find a familiar face.
Tim Virga, a former counselor at Folsom State Prison who was once the Folsom chapter president of the guards union, would be a key negotiator for the state.
Virga now works for the Department of Personnel Administration, and Schwarzenegger officials confirm he would be a negotiator for the state in contract talks.
At the March 4 Senate hearing, Virga told lawmakers he someday might return to his old job at Folsom, where he would work under the terms of contract he may help redesign.
"Tim Virga has a conflict of interest,'' Speier said. "He should not continue.''
Virga did not want to be interviewed for this story.
A spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, Terri Carbaugh, however, said that the governor had "full faith and confidence in Mr. Virga,'' and that he had "great insight'' into the bargaining unit he may be negotiating with.
Ryan Sherman also had insight into the union.
Sherman first went to work for the union in 1995 and became a registered lobbyist for the prison guards in 1999.
He left his union job in May 2001 to go to work for state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles.
In one example of union synergy inside the Capitol, Sherman helped Romero carry union legislation that would have made it difficult for private prisons -- which employ nonunion workers -- to connstruct new jails in California. In an interview, Sherman acknowledged that he wrote the bill as a lobbyist for the union before joining Romero.
Sherman also helped Romero in her job as a member of the Senate's Rules Committee, which among other things has the power to OK or deny gubernatorial appointments, including prison wardens -- a key position that has a dramatic impact on rank-and-file union members.
During Sherman's stint with Romero, the committee confirmed 21 wardens.
Critics of the state's prison system have long complained that the union has used its political clout to greatly influence who becomes a warden.
Both Sherman and Romero insist that while he was working for the senator, his loyalties were with her.
"He worked for me, not the union,'' Romero said.
State records show that wasn't always true.
According to state records, Sherman, who runs a separate political consulting firm, was paid $500 from the union while working for Romero. The union also spent $600 to fly him to a conference.
Since leaving Romero's staff in November 2002, Sherman acknowledged he has done more consulting work for the union.
Sherman's interactions with the union are not unusual.
Lawmakers and their staffs are wined and dined by special interests nightly in Sacramento. Staffers can have outside employment, as long as their legislative duties do not have a direct economic impact on their other employer.
And the revolving door between government and big-time Capitol players is wide open, even under a new governor who vowed not to be beholden to special interests. Consumer groups howled when Schwarzenegger chose a Chamber of Commerce lobbyist and an executive for an HMO to be key members of his inner circle, for example.
Stern, the good-government watchdog, noted there's nothing inherently wrong with politicians employing people with the same beliefs who happen to have worked for industries or causes that are affected by decisions made in the Capitol.
Union critics, however, say the union, through its contributions and personal connections, has unfair clout in Capitol discussions involving crime and punishment.
Sherman said he didn't talk that much with union leaders while working in the Senate.
"I had a pretty clear understanding of what (the guards union's) interests were,'' he said.
E-mail Mark Martin at email@example.com .
Posted on Sun, Mar. 21, 2004
State Corrections officials tried to discipline three Salinas Valley...
SACRAMENTO - State Corrections officials tried to discipline three Salinas Valley State Prison internal investigators allegedly tied to the "Green Wall," a gang-like organization of rogue guards who intimidated inmates and fellow employees, public records show.
But the discipline was overturned by the State Personnel Board, which rejects more than 60 percent of cases brought by the Department of Corrections and California Youth Authority. Senators leading an oversight hearing Monday say the repeated reversals "can chill the work environment if employees believe 'a few bad actors' have escaped punishment."
Corrections officials say the three internal affairs officers badly botched a cell search, triggering a fight in which the inmate and one of the three was injured.
In a lawsuit against the department and a whistleblower complaint to the Inspector General, former internal affairs officer Donald J. Vodicka alleges three of the four guards involved in the cell search repeatedly roughed up inmates - in one case for ogling a female secretary.
The union attorney who represented the three guards referred calls to California Correctional Peace Officers Association Vice President Lance Corcoran. He said no one could comment on Vodicka's allegations because of the pending suit, but defended the personnel board's rejection of the departmental charges.
Vodicka and a current Salinas Valley guard who spoke on condition of anonymity said they personally observed the aftermath of several of the incidents in which the inmates required medical treatment, but not the alleged beatings themselves.
The four internal affairs officers were retaliating against a reputed gang leader after a March 2001 altercation between his gang and black inmates, Vodicka alleged.
The gang leader "was talking a bunch of trash to those guys, making them look bad" as they investigated the gang battle, Vodicka said. "They went to visit his cell to make a point."
Disciplinary records obtained by The Associated Press show the investigators claimed to have information the inmate had drugs in his cell, but never documented that claim as required.
They found gang materials but no drugs during the April 3, 2001, search, though the inmate allegedly flushed something down the toilet. They did find the makings of a crude knife, but failed to remove or report those items.
They also failed to handcuff the inmate as required. A fight ensued, with the inmate subsequently complaining of pain to his head and ankle. One of the officers, Michael Lashkoff, also was injured when the inmate punched him in the face.
Lashkoff, Fernando O. Chavez and Walter Faulkner were each charged with "inexcusable neglect of duty" and bringing discredit to the department. Chavez and Faulkner also were charged with dishonesty, and Faulkner with improperly taking home inmates' handkerchiefs and drawings.
The fourth guard was not charged, though Vodicka names him as a member of the Green Wall. Vodicka's internal complaint and subsequent lawsuit do not name Chavez as being involved, but allege Lashkoff kept a Green Wall insignia on the back of his motorcycle.
In a confidential report obtained earlier by the AP, the inspector general verified that Salinas Valley guards formed the Green Wall, also known as the "Code of Silence," after several guards were injured on Thanksgiving Day 1998.
Members repeatedly vandalized prison property with Green Wall markings, had a secret hand signal, and held parties featuring green beer. The internal investigators smuggled into the prison an engraved green-handled knife as a promotion gift for a sergeant.
Based mainly on the guards' testimony they acted properly, the personnel board ruled Dec. 17, 2002, that the charges lacked sufficient evidence.
More than half the Personnel Board's appeals come from the adult or youth prison systems, with most employees represented by the powerful guards' union. More than 60 percent of the discipline imposed by Corrections or Youth Authority officials is then modified or overturned.
Former Youth Authority Director Jerry Harper complained in an earlier Senate hearing that his efforts to clean up the troubled authority were thwarted because the board hired back most of people he fired.
That's largely because the correctional agencies do a poor job of pursuing disciplinary cases - then the agencies and the personnel board wind up suing each other and costing taxpayers millions, said state Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Daly City, who is chairing Monday's hearing. The agencies also have disproportionately retaliated against whistleblowers themselves, which Speier called "a huge problem."
Union spokesman Corcoran said prison guards face too many discipline charges. Guard face a one-in-four chance of being disciplined during their career, he said, while charges are brought against one of 12 other state employees.
"Most cases where the employee is obviously guilty never got to the State Personnel Board," Corcoran said. "Only when the case is contested does it go to appeal."
Charges must be brought against guards within one year, instead of three years for non-peace officers. The process is so complex that 43 percent of cases fail for lack of timeliness, the inspector general found. More than half of completed cases are appealed, and the board must act within six months or the discipline is automatically reversed, under a court ruling obtained by the guards' union.
The Corrections Department "loses almost every case it takes to the State Personnel Board. Furthermore, in almost every case, the loss is caused by something that could and should have been prevented," a federal court-appointed overseer concluded this month in a report on the department's handling of internal investigations and discipline.
New Corrections Director Jeanne S. Woodford told the AP the department is working to streamline oversight of the disciplinary cases, including appointing a single attorney to see them through.
Vodicka alleged retaliation by prison officials after he reported the Green Wall's activities in 2001. He wore a bulletproof vest to testify before an earlier Senate hearing, and said he still fears for his life.
Within 12 days, the personnel board rejected his complaint for lack of evidence.
ON THE NET
Salinas Valley State Prison: www.corr.ca.gov/InstitutionsDiv/INSTDIV/facilities/fac_prison_SVP.asp
California Department of Corrections: http://www.corr.ca.gov
California Correctional Peace Officers Association: http://www.ccpoanet.org
Oversight committees: www.sen.ca.gov/oversight
Changes must be made to prison guards' deal
The massive problems in the state prison system -- corruption, runaway costs and the highest recidivism rate in the nation -- won't be solved quickly. But there's one area where the Legislature can have immediate influence.
It can force the state and the correctional officers' union to renegotiate some parts of a contract that gives overly generous raises to prison guards at a time when many state employees face job losses, pay cuts or stagnant salaries.
The Associated Press reported earlier this year that the Department of Corrections has overspent its budget every year since 1999, running up almost $1.6 billion in extra bills. Prison spending increased 31 percent from 1999 to 2003, and the state now spends $33,152 annually for each of its 161,000 inmates. Two-thirds of that cost goes to pay prison employees.
In light of such large and growing costs, the Department of Corrections must be one of the areas reined in to solve the budget crisis.
While the correctional officers have a five-year contract, the Office of Legislative Counsel notes that under state law, if the Legislature doesn't approve sufficient funding to implement contract provisions, the parties have to renegotiate the affected provisions.
The Legislature has to itemize and disapprove specific contract items that require spending. That's what triggers the requirement to reopen contract negotiations. Otherwise, contract costs simply get absorbed by the Corrections Department's overall budget.
Legislators need to:
Draft and approve budget language that creates a specific line item for guard pay raises. That would take care of an irresponsible, unaffordable provision that pegs guard salary increases to raises of the California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and police in Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco. These raises, which came in higher than anticipated, are negotiated by city and county governments, over which the Legislature has no control. Guards are scheduled to get an outrageous 11.4 percent raise July 1 if the Legislature doesn't act. That's a $234 million item.
Draft and approve a line item on work hours. A current contract provision will reduce work hours for guards from 168 every 28 days to 164 -- with no offsetting reduction in pay. That change also occurs July 1 unless the Legislature acts. Killing this provision will save $43.1 million.
Draft and approve a line item on voluntary overtime. The current contract distributes overtime by seniority. Since senior guards get paid more than newer guards, this provision is costlier than evenly distributing overtime among all guards. That's about $4.8 million.
These three items produce $282 million in savings, but there are many more. Lawmakers must scour the contract and draft specific language to provide specific savings.
Some legislators want to take a symbolic stand by voting against a $300 million "corrections deficiency bill" to cover cost overruns of already approved programs. That sounds like a better idea than it is.
That bill includes funds for the Office of the Inspector General, the independent watchdog agency that investigates allegations of prison guard misconduct and does special reviews of the Corrections Department. It includes funds for basic prison operations. Public safety would be affected if the Legislature failed to approve that bill.
Renegotiating the lucrative contract with officers is a better place
to start, in a process that also must involve a serious search for efficiencies
and management improvements from the top down.
Posted on 03/18/04 05:30:16
State Will Oversee Probes of Guards
March 10, 2004
SAN FRANCISCO Citing the "sorry history" of California's handling of prison disciplinary problems, a federal judge Tuesday cautiously gave a green light to the state's plan for independent oversight of prison guard misconduct.
After questioning newly appointed prison officials, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson gave an initial go-ahead to using the state's inspector general to oversee investigations of excessive force and other alleged misconduct.
The judge said he hoped that the state Department of Corrections would address the so-called "code of silence" among guards and that public confidence could be restored. "It is not going to be an easy task," he said.
At the outset of the hearing, Henderson suggested that he was ready to take more severe action: "I am seriously considering appointing a receiver to oversee the California Department of Corrections."
The session was an important chapter in a case that had begun as a civil rights suit involving Pelican Bay State Prison and had evolved into a much broader legal fight over the integrity of the disciplinary system for prison employees. Henderson in 1995 found that brutality by guards and poor medical care at the prison had violated the rights of inmates.
In response to the scathing findings of a special master appointed by Henderson, the Corrections Department recently submitted a remedial plan for its disciplinary process. It calls for an independent review of probes of correctional officers, which critics say have been impeded by the prison culture.
The department's latest proposal calls for using the state Office of the Inspector General, an independent agency that reports to the governor, to provide oversight for the court in disciplinary cases.
Oversight has been the stickiest element of the state reforms.
Prison officials originally had proposed that role for the Youth and Corrections Agency, the parent of the department and the California Youth Authority. But the Prison Law Office, which filed the suit, objected on grounds that the agency lacked independence. And state officials revised their proposal, which both sides said would take a few months to finalize.
Plaintiffs' attorneys said state officials, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, had to take several steps to make an independent review a reality. The first was the appointment of an inspector general, which happened in Sacramento as the court session was winding down.
Schwarzenegger named Matthew Cate to lead the office that would investigate wrongdoing in state lockups. Since 1996, Cate has been a supervising deputy attorney general at the state Department of Justice, where he has managed the prosecution of political corruption cases and provided counsel to grand juries and law enforcement agencies.
Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said Cate's appointment "demonstrates to me that [the governor is] serious about good oversight of California's prison and parole system."
And Schwarzenegger praised Cate's integrity, saying, "He shares my commitment to bringing truth and justice to California's correctional system."
Cate will investigate allegations of misconduct, perform audits and special reviews requested by legislators, and follow up on tips from whistle-blowers and the public. A Republican, Cate will report directly to the governor and earn $123,255 annually.
Cate said in a statement: "I am committed to ensuring a system of accountability and integrity where prisoners, guards and the public can trust that the law is followed and public safety is top priority."
Officials at the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., which represents guards, did not return calls seeking comment on the appointment and the department's proposal.
The appointment comes as the state's $6-billion penal system is undergoing scrutiny from the Legislature and the federal court. A series of reports and oversight hearings in the Capitol have spotlighted troubles ranging from excessive violence to corruption, abuse of inmates and other misconduct by guards.
In a 10-page remedial plan filed here last month, prison officials proposed adopting a code of conduct that would require all employees to report misconduct and cooperate in investigations.
On Tuesday, Henderson said he had heard promises and plans from state corrections officials in the past and wanted to know why he should give this new group another chance before seizing more direct control of the disciplinary process.
"I believe there is a commitment by the agency and the administration for real-time oversight by the inspector general," said Roderick Q. Hickman, the new agency secretary.
"Your honor," said new Corrections Director Jeanne Woodford, "we are taking this issue very seriously."
Prison Law Office attorney Steve Fama granted that the proposal to involve the inspector general was markedly different, but said the review's timeliness and thoroughness was critical.
"Unless that is done," he said, his office will seek to put discipline under a court-named receiver.
Henderson said the only reason that he is giving state prison officials
another chance is that he met several weeks ago with Hickman. "I have faith
that he will carry through," the judge said. The judge approved the use
of Mike Gennaco, head of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office of Independent
Review, to set up the state's independent review of the prison disciplinary
Reiterman reported from San Francisco, Warren from Sacramento.
Posted on Fri, Mar. 05, 2004
Speier: Negotiator was pressured
SACRAMENTO -- With tempers fraying in the summer of 2001, negotiations over a new labor contract between the powerful prison guard union and the state were bogging down.
Union officials wanted Robert Losik, the Davis administration's chief negotiator, removed from the closed-door bargaining sessions. By early September, veteran negotiator Losik resigned his position, telling his bosses he couldn't deliver a signed contract.
Thursday, Losik publicly revealed the circumstances surrounding his departure at a daylong oversight hearing scrutinizing the contract, saying his relationship with the union had deteriorated.
The testimony of Losik and others for the first time provided an inside glimpse at the talks on the controversial contract, which has ballooned in cost since an agreement was ratified by the Legislature in early 2002.
While Losik emphasized it was a personal decision, state Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, who co-chaired the hearing, contended he was pressured to leave. The union, a major campaign donor to former Gov. Gray Davis, ``made no bones about the fact that they didn't want to work with'' Losik, she said after the hearing.
Speier suggested that ``any time'' the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) ``says they don't want to work with someone, there's going to be a change in the negotiator.''
Union officials, denying they have that kind of clout, acknowledged their desire to remove Losik, but played down their role in his decision. ``I probably screamed and hollered,'' said Mike Jimenez, president of the CCPOA, testifying that he talked to the Department of Personnel Administration, lawmakers and Davis administration officials. He cited what he called Losik's loss of credibility and ``negative interaction'' with the union.
The Department of Personnel Administration initially estimated that by the contract's final year in fiscal 2006-07 it would cost $190.5 million, but the Department of Finance now says the projected cost in that year will hit more than $600 million.
The higher figure is due in part to staff vacancies and mushrooming overtime costs in the Department of Corrections, which houses 161,000 inmates. A Mercury News analysis has shown that 391 officers earn more than $100,000 in the force, which has more than 20,000 officers.
Losik's successor, Linda Buzzini, reached an agreement with the union in December 2001. But she testified Thursday that bargaining was hampered by the change in government negotiators.
Buzzini also disclosed that she came within hours of reaching a two-year agreement with the union without any base-pay raises, which was the aim of the Davis administration. But at the last minute, she said, one of the union bargaining team members went to the Web site of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen and discovered it had won a five-year deal with pay increases.
Prison guard salaries, which start at about $33,000 a year, are linked to the California Highway Patrol's pay formula, which in turn is tied to the salaries of five other law enforcement agencies, including the San Francisco and Oakland police departments.
Speier called this provision ``a blank check,'' adding that ``we were just going to pay our officers whatever the salaries were negotiated by other jurisdictions.''
Given the state's huge budget deficit, Speier urged that the contract be reopened. She produced an opinion from the legislative counsel's office which indicates the contract can be renegotiated if the Legislature ``does not provide sufficient funding'' for it.
Lance Corcoran, executive vice president of the union, blasted the suggestion, saying it would undermine the state collective-bargaining process. ``For every bargaining unit in the state of California, it means don't negotiate contracts anymore because they're not worth the paper they are written on,'' he said.
Contact Mark Gladstone at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (916) 325-4314.
Posted on Sat, Mar. 06, 2004
Prison guard pact negotiator named
By Mark Gladstone
SACRAMENTO - If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger manages to reopen the state's controversial contract with prison guards, his lead negotiator will be one of their former union chapter presidents.
Tim Virga's role bargaining with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association came to light this week at a legislative oversight hearing. He acknowledged that he might return to the Department of Corrections where he could work under the terms of the deal he strikes.
The Department of Personnel Administration, which bargains labor pacts for the state, confirmed his duties Friday.
"If negotiations reopen, he'd be the lead negotiator on the management bargaining team," said Lynelle Jolley, a department spokeswoman, in an e-mail.
At the hearing Thursday, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association indicated a willingness to come back to the table.
Their contract was put under a microscope this week at the hearing -- one in a series in which lawmakers have highlighted problems in the youth and adult correctional system. The hearings have also focused on abuse in youth prisons and the inability of corrections authorities to police wrongdoing.
With criticism of the prison system mounting on multiple fronts, Schwarzenegger stepped into the fray Friday, forming a prison reform commission led by former Gov. George Deukmejian. Nicknamed the "Iron Duke," Deukmejian vowed in his successful 1982 gubernatorial campaign to crack down on crime.
He then presided over a rapid expansion of prisons, in which the number of inmates increased from about 35,000 to 90,000. Since then, it has reached 161,000. Likewise, the prison guard union grew, turning into a major campaign donor and potent political force in the halls of Sacramento.
In 2001, then-Gov. Gray Davis' administration negotiated a new labor agreement with the guards. The cost of the raises this year and next has nearly doubled from the original estimates. With the state facing a $12 billion shortfall, Schwarzenegger and lawmakers are seeking to trim the pay raises for a variety of state agencies. That's where Virga will step in.
A former president of the Folsom chapter of the guard union, Virga was one of the labor group's negotiators in the mid-1990s.
He joined the Department of Personnel Administration in 2002, after the latest contract was ratified. Virga now administers the contract for the state.
He said Thursday it was not uncommon for labor negotiators to switch sides and join management. Virga told lawmakers that at some point he will probably go back to the Department of Corrections, where he was a correctional counselor. He said he doesn't believe his background poses a conflict in representing the state.
Terri Carbaugh, spokeswoman for the governor, agreed. "We believe he is competent and prepared to assist with negotiations," she said. "He's been candid about his employment history and we think that will foster his ability to resolve prospective negotiations."
The prison system is confronting more than money problems. Other issues Schwarzenegger is targeting include guards' use of force and prison closures.
In a statement, the governor said no one was more qualified to lead his panel than Deukmejian, who served as governor from 1983 to 1991. The former Long Beach lawmaker and attorney general retired from a law practice in 2001.
Described as the father of the modern prison system in California, a characterization Deukmejian chuckled over, the former governor said he hopes to report his findings by June.
In a telephone interview, he said the prisons "have been troubled for some time and the governor wants to effectuate a change so that the public confidence can be restored."
Deukmejian will be joined by Joseph Gunn, the former executive director of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, who will be executive director of the new commission.
Gunn will be aided by George Camp, a former prison administrator. Robin Dezember, who served as undersecretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency when Deukmejian was governor, will serve as a consultant.
Catherine Campbell, a Fresno attorney who represents inmates in lawsuits against the state, questioned the Deukmejian appointment. "It's so outrageous since he built the whole prison system," she said. "It's just amazing to me that they would bring back the sculptor to fix the thing he built."
March 4, 2004
SACRAMENTO As state senators convene a hearing today into the controversial labor contract for California prison officers, newly released records show that pay raises for guards could soar beyond the highest previous estimate of 37%.
As a result, lawmakers could be forced to find another $210 million in this fiscal year and next, as California faces $17 billion in shortages.
The documents show that officials understated the cost of the contract in public statements, legislative testimony and an analysis provided to lawmakers who were considering approval of the contract in 2002.
A new Department of Finance estimate prepared for today's hearing shows that, unless the deal is renegotiated, the contract could cost $2 billion over its five-year life a number much higher than past estimates.
Former Gov. Gray Davis negotiated the deal as he entered the 2002 election campaign. The prison officers union ultimately contributed more than $1 million to Davis' reelection effort in 2002, after having spent more than $2 million to help elect him in 1998.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, seeking to trim state spending, has asked the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. to renegotiate the contract. The union has rebuffed his requests.
State Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), who will be co-chairwoman at today's hearing with state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), said Wednesday that a review of internal documents had suggested that lawmakers might not have received full information before voting on the deal.
"I think we will be able to make a case that the Legislature was misled intentionally as to the cost of the contract,'' said Speier who, along with Romero, voted for the pay package. "And based on the false information, the contract should be renegotiated.''
Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) carried legislation to ratify the contract in 2002. One legislator, Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), voted against it.
In an interview, Romero appeared to be less critical than Speier of the contract though she said that, because of the state's fiscal condition, the administration and the union should renegotiate.
"It is important to remember the buck stops with the legislative vote,'' Romero said. "The vast majority voted for this contract. We voted for it with our eyes closed.''
Union representatives have defended the contract, saying that officers protect public safety by overseeing felons in the state's 32 prisons. They added that California Highway Patrol officers had received a similar contract.
"Our officers work a tough law enforcement job, and they are deserving of competitive salaries with other major law enforcement entities,'' said Lance Corcoran, the union's executive vice president.
The Davis administration's Department of Personnel Administration, which represented the then-governor in labor talks with the union, pegged the five-year cost of the contract at $658 million. Davis' Department of Finance was more conservative, estimating the cost at $521 million. The Finance Department dated its report Jan. 10, 2002, the day the Assembly ratified the contract on a 79-0 vote. The Senate approved it four days later, 28 to 1.
Despite the Davis administration's underestimates, an Assembly Appropriations Committee staff member prepared a public analysis that predicted that the contract's price tag would be $1.3 billion.
The deal provides California's 26,000-plus prison officers with pay increases that started last July and are scheduled to continue each July for the next three years. The raises are based on increases granted to the California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, and police in Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco.
In preparation for today's hearing, Schwarzenegger's Department of Finance prepared an analysis showing the $2-billion revised cost, brought about by hefty raises granted to local police in the last two years.
"Increases at the local level have dramatically outpaced anyone's expectations,'' spokesman H.D. Palmer said.
The prison officers' first increase was 6.8% nearly twice that anticipated in an analysis by the Department of Personnel Administration dated Dec. 26, 2001. That was the day the state and the union reached tentative agreement on the labor pact. The Schwarzenegger administration released the analysis to The Times last week in response to a Public Records Act request.
In that analysis, the Department of Personnel Administration assumed that guards would receive 3.53% on July 1, 2003, 8.39% in July 2004, 8.54% in July 2005 and 9.82% in July 2006.
The document shows that the administration assumed that the cumulative pay hike would be about 37% over the life of the contract even as officials said in public statements and reported to legislators that the cost would be far less.
Even that internal estimate appears to be low.
The Department of Personnel Administration's analysis for today's hearing shows that the next scheduled raise, to be granted this summer, could be 11.3% not the 8.39% estimated in December 2001.
The department predicts that officers will get smaller raises in 2005 and 2006, the contract's final two years, although spokeswoman Lynelle Jolley said estimates for 2005 and 2006 were more speculative than the 11.3% estimate for July 2004.
Steve Maviglio, Davis' press secretary, said officials had not intentionally downplayed the cost of the contract.
"The analysis was done by Department of Finance without regard to politics or policy,'' Maviglio said.
In addition to the pay raises, the contract allows officers to take sick days more readily at a cost of $80 million over the life of the contract, according to the Schwarzenegger administration. The prison guards also won a richer pension under the contract and subsequent legislation.
Prisons: Power nobody dares mess with
The California state prison system provides a poignant example of how a government agency became dominated by a special interest.
Over the past 20 years, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) has held the state's correctional system in an ever-tightening grip. The union's control of state criminal justice policy has produced mismanagement and abuse that waste tax dollars and compromise the public interest.
Elected officials who oppose or even question the CCPOA's dictates risk political ostracism, retaliation and electoral defeat. In a manner not seen since the Southern Pacific Railroad's domination of state politics during the late 19th century, the union has established itself as a nearly unchecked political force.
For the past 10 years, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan public policy organization, has monitored and documented the political activities of the CCPOA. By tracking these activities we can demonstrate how the union promotes its self-interest by seeking to maintain an ever-growing prison population. More inmates mean mean more prison guards, which expands union membership and ensures increased political clout. The more people California incarcerates, the stronger the prison guard union.
Despite a prison-construction boom, since 1984 California's inmate population has been twice as large as the building capacity for it. These overcrowded conditions have been maintained even though crime rates in California have plummeted. With less crime, judges are sentencing fewer defendants to state prison.
However, as the pool of defendants sentenced from the local courts declined, the prison population was maintained by increasing the number of technical parole violations. In the past five years, the number of inmates returned to prison for a non-criminal parole violation has increased from 43 percent to 56 percent. For these violations, inmates are returned to prison for an average of five months without any additional rehabilitative services before again returning to the community.
The desire to maintain a growing inmate population goes beyond just the union's desire for more prisons and increased membership. When the system is overcrowded, prisons must maintain a designated ratio of guards to inmates. To maintain this ratio, the California Department of Corrections either hires more guards or grants overtime.
Overtime is the highly favored option because it allows current line staffers to double their yearly salaries. Correctional officers are paid time and a half for overtime hours - an average of $37 an hour. With their current salary, it is not uncommon for California prison guards to earn over $100,000 a year, including their overtime. Last year, prison guards were paid over $200 million in overtime. Should the number of inmates drop below current levels, extra income for prison guards from overtime is lost and there is no argument for more prisons.
The growth of the guards union as a political power has paralleled the explosive growth of California's prison system in recent years. While California constructed 12 new prisons between 1852 and 1984, a change towards harsher sentencing led California to launch an unprecedented prison building boom, adding 21 new prisons since 1984. These changes in sentencing policy increased California's inmate population from 20,000 in 1980 to over 160,000 today. California now has the third largest penal system in the world, behind China and the United States Bureau of Prisons.
As the prison population swelled with a wave of mostly nonviolent property and drug offenders, the ranks of the prison guards union burgeoned. Between 1980 and 2002, membership in the CCPOA increased from 5,000 to 31,000. The growing membership results now in the collection of over $22 million in yearly dues for the CCPOA's coffers.
In the mid-1980s, the CCPOA leadership took advantage of the prevailing conservative political climate by adopting an aggressive agenda to further promote prison expansion and ensure a growing inmate population. They lavished campaign contributions on friendly legislators and governors.
In 1990, a commission established by Gov. George Deukmejian declared that California's criminal justice system was "out of balance" due to the explosive growth of the state's prison system and the failure to develop common-sense prison alternatives.
At the time, the commission declared, "In sentencing decisions judges lack sufficient intermediate sanctions ... similiarly, parole authorities lack sufficient intermediate sanctions when making decisions regarding parole violators."
Efforts to create a more balanced and responsible system are routinely blocked by the ever-present CCPOA and their allies. The commission also decried the lack of rehabilitative services within the prison system, such as education. And that's something, too, the union has been fighting for a long time. (Just this past year, the CCPOA waged vigorous campaigns to prevent the establishment of education programs, which have been shown to lower recidivism rates, at two state prisons.)
In 1994, the union made history when it donated $425,000 to Pete Wilson's gubernatorial campaign - the largest single donation in California history up to that time. Total contributions by the union in support of Wilson exceeded $1 million, independent expenditures included.
Approximately 35 percent of the CCPOA's nearly $8 million yearly budget is dedicated to political activities, including donations to elected officials. (The remaining $14 million covers general operations such as the salaries of 71 full-time employees, including 20 attorneys.) In addition to direct candidate contributions, the union spends exorbitantly on independent expenditure campaigns. An independent campaign is not officially affiliated with a candidate, but is designed to support a favored candidate by attacking another. After his election, Wilson rewarded the prison guards with hefty salary increases and harsher sentencing policies.
Also in 1994, the CCPOA joined with the National Rifle Association to fund the "Three Strikes" initiative that was placed on the ballot following the murder of Polly Klaas by Richard Allen Davis. The initiative was the harshest sentencing law in recent history and was designed to impose lengthy prison sentences for individuals with second and third felonies. The initiative passed with 72 percent of voter support.
While the CCPOA achieved unprecedented political influence under the Wilson administration, it was not until Gray Davis' election that it achieved dominance. In 1998, the union contributed a total of $2 million to Davis' campaign, including $946,000 on an independent expenditure campaign for last-minute television ads targeting swing voters.
As governor, Davis virtually surrendered control of all corrections matters to the CCPOA and its leadership. No one in the Davis administration dared take a position that would be perceived as contrary to the union's interests, to the point where the director of the Department of Corrections and his senior staff seemed willing to countenance unconscionable abuse and mismanagement.
A recent report by a federal investigator accuses former Department of Corrections Director Edward Alameida of quashing an investigation of guard misconduct by using false information as a basis to drop the cases. Witnesses recount the director expressing his determination to end the probe after a telephone conversation with a CCPOA official a few days earlier, in which Alameida stated, "I want this to go away."
The union's remarkable influence over Davis and his administration became glaringly apparent in 2002 when he signed a new contract guaranteeing a guard pay increase of 37.7 percent at the same time that California was confronting the most serious fiscal crisis in recent history. Under this contract, a guard with seven years of service who earned $53,000 per year would now receive a yearly salary of $73,000. In addition, under the new contract, correctional officers were no longer required to show a doctor's note when calling in sick. This provision led to a 27 percent increase in sick hours between 2001 and 2002 and an additional 500,000 hours in staff overtime.
Governor Schwarznegger's desire to revisit the contract has been repeatedly rebuffed by CCPOA officials.
The union's muscle has strengthened their affiliations with other political and special interest groups. During the late 1980s the CCPOA was instrumental in developing victims' rights organizations and Sacramento-based political powerhouses. By providing seed money, office space and ongoing support, the CCPOA was key to the establishment of Crime Victims United and the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau - California's two most influential victims' rights groups (providing almost 80 percent of their operating budgets in their early years).
These groups were originally founded to promote the rights of crime victims, but quickly became consumed with advocating the CCPOA's agenda of tougher sentencing policies and prison expansion. By establishing and maintaining these groups as a political force, the union skillfully insulated itself from accusations that it was solely self-serving and positioned itself as a champion of crime victims.
This strategic alliance with crime victim groups also allowed the CCPOA to cement its relationships with other law enforcement groups, such as the District Attorney's Association and the California Sheriff's Association. With these alliances in place, the CCPOA was positioned to vigorously pursue its prison expansion agenda through harsher sentencing legislation. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s CCPOA-sponsored legislation was successful more than 80 percent of the time.
The union relies on its ability to retaliate against all perceived enemies to maintain dominance on state prison issues. When former Kings County District Attorney Greg Strickland convened a grand jury to investigate charges of prison guard brutality at Corcoran State Prison, the union launched a highly organized and well-timed campaign against him during his reelection. The campaign included a flyer sent to every voter in the county suggesting that if inmates could vote they would choose Strickland because he was soft on crime. Strickland lost the election.
Former conservative Assemblyman Phil Wyman (R-Tehachapi) lost his bid for reelection after he incurred the union's wrath by advocating more private prisons. The CCPOA spent $200,000 supporting his opponent in 2002.
Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-San Jose), a longtime leader on corrections reform and a member of the union's "Enemies We Face" list, felt the CCPOA's fury in 1992, when the union gave a substantial contribution to his relatively unknown opponent. Vasconcellos had opposed a prison bond measure and was a frequent critic of the union's contracts. Although Vasconcellos was not defeated, the union's actions had a chilling effect on other potential opponents of the CCPOA in the Legislature.
When its members are accused of brutality, the union generously uses its membership dues to influence public opinion. When the U.S. Department of Justice intervened and indicted Corcoran State Prison guards accused of staging gladiator fights between prisoners, the union responded with a sophisticated public relations campaign. Thirty-second television spots depicting desperate guards under constant siege from savage inmates ran on designated local stations. Despite damning testimony by two whistle-blowing guards and graphic descriptions by former inmates, the local jury found the accused guards not guilty.
With the advent of term limits, the CCPOA has expanded its reach to local elections. By contributing to the campaigns of local candidates, the union is quietly building alliances with elected county officials on the assumption that many will ultimately serve in the Legislature. In some instances, the union has succeeded in having its own members elected to office. To promote efforts at the local level, the union maintains a separate political action committee to assist friendly candidates.
When government becomes dominated by a small number of people who craft policies to suit their vested interest, the public interest invariably suffers. A recent report by the California Bureau of State Audits stated that, "Corrections is the worst department in California, the worst run, with the sweetest contracts, their job requirements are the softest, and their abuse of rules and overtime is the grossest."
Over the past 10 years, at least three major bipartisan policy reports have been written calling for reform of California's prison system. At no time have any comprehensive reforms ever been seriously considered by the Legislature. As noted by Governor Duekmejian's blue-ribbon commission, a balanced criminal justice system provides a range of sanctions, primarily at the county level.
Unfortunately, a healthy debate on criminal justice policy in California is not possible as long as the CCPOA remains unopposed. The current state budget crisis will confront lawmakers with unprecedented challenges and decisions about prioritizing state spending.
Many of us hope Governor Schwarzenegger will take a stand against special interest domination and craft public policy in the public's interest. In the meantime, state Sens. Jackie Spear (D-Hillsborough) and Gloria Romero (D-L.A.) deserve credit for demonstrating in their recent hearings the courage to directly take on the CCPOA and draw public attention to the state's badly ailing criminal justice system.
Daniel Macallair is the executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco and teaches in the Criminal Justice Department at San Francisco State University. This article is based on research by the center with funding from the Greenville Foundation and Open Society Institute. More information about the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is available at www.cjcj.org .
Prison Guard Union Called Too Powerful
January 22, 2004
SACRAMENTO A "vacuum of leadership" in state prisons allows the guards union to exert extraordinary influence over everything from who becomes a warden to how a penitentiary is run, the former independent watchdog of California's correctional system said Wednesday.
Steve White, now a Superior Court judge in Sacramento, likened the prison system to a giant pool table and said the union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., is the "largest ball on the table," knocking around all other players at will.
White also warned that unless the Department of Corrections is kept under constant scrutiny by an independent overseer and placed under leaders with "a spine," troubles will continue.
"You have a department that has repeatedly, redundantly come before you and said, 'We're going to fix it,' " White told lawmakers at a hearing in the Capitol. "And they never do."
White's testimony came as two Senate oversight committees wrapped up an inquiry into the state correctional system specifically, charges that it has lost the ability to investigate and punish wrongdoing inside prison walls.
The hearing unfolded in the wake of a blistering report on the corrections department from a federal court investigator, who found that a "code of silence" condoned at the highest levels of management discouraged officers from reporting misconduct for fear of reprisals.
The two senators who led the inquiry vowed to keep the spotlight on the system.
One urgent priority, they said, was to protect the inspector general's office, which acts as an independent watchdog over prisons, and give it more teeth to compel reforms.
The office, which conducts audits and investigations launched by whistle-blowers and inmates, suffered a massive budget cut approved by the Legislature last year, slashing its staff by 76%. Now, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to cut more funding and move the office into the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency.
Sens. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) and Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) said such a move would all but cripple the office and make independent investigations impossible at a time when scrutiny is badly needed. At least one Republican, Sen. Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga), seemed willing to join the Democrats in opposing the Schwarzenegger proposal and restoring funding to $7 million, instead of the $630,000 the governor has proposed.
Speier and Romero also may pursue legislation to require that the inspector general's investigations be made public. Now, Romero said, the confidential reports "sit on shelves and gather dust," and prison officials are not held accountable.
Among those offering ideas for reform Wednesday was Roderick Q. Hickman, secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency. He asked the senators to give him at least two months to rebuild the internal discipline process and begin to change "an environment where people will turn a blind eye" to misconduct.
After the hearing, Hickman acknowledged that the woes besetting the prison system are complicating his search for a new director of corrections to replace Edward S. Alameida, who resigned last month. Alameida stepped down amid charges that he scrapped a perjury investigation of three guards at Pelican Bay State Prison at the request of the union.
Hickman, who is conducting a national search for a successor to Alameida, said that when he approaches candidates, they often "get a glazed look" that reflects the "significant challenges" in California.
Among those challenges are the size of the system 32 prisons, 161,000 inmates and about 50,000 employees as well as the power of the guards union and litigation against the department on several fronts.
Hickman would not identify who was on his short list of candidates, but officials who asked not to be identified said that one person whose name has been put forth is San Quentin Warden Jeanne S. Woodford.
Hickman said his goal is to hire someone with "the right values to lead."
February 28, 2004
SAN FRANCISCO California prison officials have submitted a plan for revamping the disciplinary system for guards and for wiping out a "code of silence" that a special court master found has impeded and corrupted internal investigations.
In a proposed 10-page "remedial plan" filed this week, state officials said the Department of Corrections would adopt a code of conduct "which compels all employees to immediately report misconduct, and a process that ensures anyone who retaliates against such persons is punished."
Some steps already have been taken.
A policy of "zero tolerance" for covering up wrongdoing was announced in a Feb. 17 memo to all employees from Roderick Q. Hickman, the new secretary of the Youth and Correctional Agency.
"Any employee, regardless of rank, sworn or non-sworn, who fails to report violations of policy or who acts in a manner that fosters the Code of Silence, shall be subject to discipline up to and including termination," the memo stated.
The court filing also said Hickman had met with all 32 wardens in the adult prison system this month to reinforce the message.
The plan was submitted in response to findings of Special Master John Hagar, a prison expert whose draft report in January found a culture of corruption in California's $5.3-billion penal system.
Hagar discussed the plan Friday with the parties involved in the complex civil rights case that gave rise to his report.
He said he was very pleased with Hickman's progress in addressing the issues.
"The Department of Corrections is determined to aggressively tackle these issues in order to reform its investigative and disciplinary action practices," the proposal stated.
It calls for ethics courses for staff members at all prisons, and revising the department's code of ethics to include the duty to report misconduct and fully cooperate with investigations.
The prison operations manual would state that workers could be fired for ostracizing employees who report serious wrongdoing.
The proposal also calls for earlier use of attorneys in disciplinary investigations.
A sticking point with the plan, however, is the state's proposal to provide additional review of the corrections department's investigations into alleged misconduct and other matters.
State officials want the review to come from an entity that would report to the Youth and Correctional Agency, which oversees adult and youth prisons.
But Don Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, which filed the civil rights case, said the oversight should come from a truly independent body.
Lance Corcoran, vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., said during a telephone interview that the department's proposal was "ridiculous. I think we have enough layers of bureaucracy."
"The department has shown an inability to investigate itself. It's time to clean house," Corcoran said.
Ultimately, the decisions belong to U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who in 1995 found that brutality by guards and poor medical care at the Pelican Bay prison near Crescent City violated inmates' rights.
The judge plans to discuss the proposal with prison officials March 9.
Three Strikes Legal - Index