The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

California prisons: Arnold Sell-out Watch continues

When last we visited Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his prison mafia (the guard's union, that is: the CCPOA), he'd just fired John Chen, the head of the Office of Inspector-General, which is the watchdog office monitoring California's prisons; and had made plans to bring the OIG in-house.

Suspicions about this had to contend with the fact that, unlike his two predecessors, he not soiled his hands with CCPOA money in order to get elected.

Now, in a piece in the San Jose Mercury News (February 1) - take a bow, Mark Gladstone - we get further and better particulars.

Gladstone quotes one of Arnold's mouthpieces, Vince Sollitto, as saying that
the governor was merely ``taking his cue'' from the Legislature and the Davis administration, which he said had gutted the office to the point where it could not stand alone.

Wasn't Arnold there to put right what those bums screwed up, not take his cue from them?

Then we get the fightback from John Chen, who
estimated that the office identified from $40 million to $50 million in possible savings in reports in the past several years.

By operation of serendipity, no fewer than 31 OIG reports found their way into the hands of the SJMN. And they make good reading for Chen. Rather than being a washout, it seems that the OIG was pointing to savings that could be made all over.

Under Chen's predecessor, Steve White, the OIG
became an irritant to prison administrators.

For example, first off, he hit the Office of Investigative Services
the corrections department office that investigates serious employee misconduct
for, amongst other things,
inadequate controls to prevent abuse of overtime pay

But the big bucks seem to have been in identifying some sizeable anomalies (that may or may not have indicated price-gouging) on cost of the provision of drugs and medical services.

Chen put the total savings identified by the OIG at $40-50m; its current budget is $2.8 million, and Arnie is proposing to reduce it to $630,000.

What gives? Has Schwarzenegger sold his soul to capo Mike Jimenez for re-election moolah? (Does he honestly think he could get through the Republican primary?) Remember that erstwhile GOP Governor Pete Wilson - who did take CCPOA gelt - is one of Arnie's key advisers.

Another good piece, in the San Francisco Chronicle (February 2), takes a look at the hold the CCPOA has over the Golden State.

Can you say Octopus?

A nice little anecdote to start:
After convening a grand jury to look into allegations that Corcoran State Prison guards brutally beat 36 inmates, Kings County District Attorney Greg Strickland found himself in a political nightmare.

Days before he hoped to win re-election in 1998, the guards union spent $30,000 to mail and call every voter in the county with suggestions that Strickland was soft on crime.

His elected career ended that week.

It quotes Democratic State Sen Jackie Steier, whom it calls
one of two lawmakers who have vowed to break the union's hold on the state's troubled Department of Corrections.
as saying
My assessment of the union's clout, particularly under Gov. Davis' administration, is that when the union would call and say jump, the response was how high.

Schwarzenegger has already appointed at least one CCPOA guy to senior office:
Rod Hickman, appointed last month by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to be the Secretary of Youth and Adult Corrections, is a former prison guard who remains a member of the union. A spokesman said Hickman continues paying dues to enjoy the health care benefits.

You don't say? Just for the good of his health...

They have friends in the Legislature who will speak up for them:
"They stand up for their employees and do what a union does,'' said Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, D-Norwalk (Los Angeles County) [1], a former parole agent and longtime union member. "Wouldn't you want a strong union representing you?''

The present enviable position of the CCPOA is apparently attributable to
Don Novey.

Rarely seen in public without one of his trademark hats, Novey was president of the union for 22 years before retiring in 2002.

It was Novey's idea to align the union with crime victims' groups, giving it a sympathetic ear in the Capitol. It was Novey who steered more than $100, 000 to the campaign for the state's three-strikes initiative. And it was Novey who coined the slogan that guards walk "the toughest beat in California.''

It mentions two legislators [2] whom the CCPOA cut off at the knees - electorally, that is - and the Federal investigation by John Hagar (report in DOC).

And the super-duper contract that the CCPOA negotiated with Gray Davis - which meant that, for all practical purposes, they were negotiating with themselves. And it shows:
Because of the contract, union officers have more freedom to pick the jobs they want, regardless of management's concerns. Clauses in the contract allow the union more ability to obtain information about investigations of guards, which has slowed internal affairs probes. And sick leave requirements have been eased, allowing guards to abuse sick time...

An academic provides his analysis:
"No one has the guts to stand up to the union,'' said John Irwin, a retired sociology professor at San Francisco State University who has written four books on California prisons. "What I found very disturbing is the wardens don't feel they have much control of what goes on. The cliques -- mostly led by sergeants -- at the prisons are very strong, and the union, of course, backs them up when they get into trouble.''

The union put up its resident humorist Lance Corcoran to respond:
There is such a myth of the overreaching power of the CCPOA; we're not omnipotent. God, I wish we could choose wardens, but it's not true.

I think Corcoran's education extends to the definition of omnipotent: plenty of room for manoeuvre there! And I suspect he had a Rummy smirk on his lips when he said it. Isn't the blarney a wonderful thing?

The piece ends on a hopeful note:
And the federal investigation of Pelican Bay does hold a powerful hammer over the department to make internal affairs procedures more immune to union influence. A federal judge has the authority to take over internal affairs if state officials can't do a better job.

A pretty poor pass when the fifth largest economy in the world has to run to its Uncle Sam to sort out its own mess!

  1. We have a little back-story on Bermudez in a piece (from some pressure group - caveat lector, natch) on the 2003 California budget crisis:
    Davis will have legislative allies in any fight against releasing inmates early...Freshman Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez (D-Norwalk) also opposes it. Before winning his Assembly seat, Bermudez was a state parole officer, and is a longtime member of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn.

    Bermudez is in a position to exert some influence over the corrections budget, having been named by Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City) as chairman of the Assembly subcommittee that oversees prison spending.

    In a hearing last week, Bermudez went out of his way to act tough toward the department that has employed him. He voted to delay the opening of the new prison at Delano by a year, saying that would save about $12 million, and upbraiding Youth Authority and Department of Corrections officials.

    Rather than trim sentences or release inmates early, Bermudez is homing in on prison administration. He made what he called a surprise visit to corrections headquarters in Sacramento, bringing the union's lobbyists and one of its top executives. Bermudez said he is "looking at total restructuring of the administrative side."

    Among items troubling Bermudez and other critics is the department's continual overspending of its budget.

    My information lists top contributors for Bermudez for the 2002 election from $12,000 right down to $4,000 - and the CCPOA is not on the list. Public sector unions are down as having given a total of $85,555 (number not broken down further). Perhaps each CCPOA local contributed individually.

  2. Former Republican Assemblyman Phil Wyman of Tehachapi; and State Sen John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara.


I surmise from the Chronicle piece that the other State Senator on the side of the angels with Jackie Steier is Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles

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