Ca. Prison System Slammed; Court Takeover Ahead?


A pervasive “code of silence” in California’s prison system protects rogue guards, corrupts recruits, and is condoned by officials who “neither understand nor care about the need for fair investigations,” charges a monitor’s report to a federal judge, says the Los Angeles Times.

At the top of the state corrections department, with a $5.3 billion annual budget, officials under pressure from the powerful prison guards union are unwilling to discipline officers who attack inmates or engage in other misconduct, says Special Master John Hagar, a prison expert appointed the judge.

The Times says Hagar’s report “amounts to a sweeping indictment of the department’s ability to police itself,” and urges criminal charges against former Corrections Director Edward S. Alameida and a deputy. The department’s faililings are “more than mere negligence,” Hagar said. “It is nothing less than the awareness of a serious security-related problem and the subsequent deliberate disregard of that problem.”

Prison officials said that new reforms would erect a “firewall” preventing inappropriate influence. Alameida, who resigned as director in December but remains on the payroll, denied wrongdoing.

After the report is reviewed by state officials and others, a judge could refer the case to U.S. prosecutors or order reforms.

State senators are holding hearings on mismanagement and cover-ups in the system, the nation’s largest with 161,000 inmates and 32 prisons. “It’s reprehensible, and I think the report shakes the very foundation of that institution,” said state Sen. Jackie Speier. “The power of the [union] in dictating o the director of corrections what he will and will not do is chilling.”

Sen. Gloria Romero, head of the special prison oversight committee, said the department had “lost control of its investigative and discipline processes. It seems to me they are just one step away from receivership, from being taken over and run by a federal court.”

The guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., gave $1.4 million in direct and indirect contributions to former Gov. Gray Davis in his first term. A union vice president, Lance Corcoran, agreed with one conclusion in Hagar’s report: The department’s record on internal inquiries is shameful.


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