California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says the California Correctional Peace Officers Association intimidates wardens and exerts undue influence on a state prison system riven by crisis, the Los Angeles Times reports. The governor is trying to take back some power that was ceded to the politically formidable union in a contract awarded by former Gov. Gray Davis in 2001 and renegotiated three years ago by the current administration. The state would reclaim the right to question officers about such nuts-and-bolts items as sick leave and to decide how many guards — and which ones — should staff certain posts. Prison authorities also could make changes in operations that the union has blocked, such as determining when inmates visit medical clinics. In response, the union, which holds $4.5 million in political action committees, complained to California’s Public Employment Relations Board that the state is acting improperly.
Federal courts have appointed a receiver to oversee prison health care and are weighing whether to intervene again with an inmate cap — or even a possible prisoner release — to relieve pressure on the teeming lockups. Hundreds of inmates die each year, and in many cases there have been allegations of abuse or neglect. “I need some of my management rights back,” said James Tilton, secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Some lawmakers disagree with Schwarzenegger’s new approach. Unlike the governor, who does not take the union’s contributions and can’t run for reelection because of term limits, many legislators have taken union money and other support and may need it in the future. Overall, the union has spent $10 million on political candidates and causes since 2000. Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero said Schwarzenegger was using the group as a scapegoat for his administration’s failure to fix the corrections system. “It becomes sort of the perennial excuse,” said Romero, who has taken $10,000 in contributions from the union since 2001.