Representing 31,000 current and retired prison officers, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is among the most potent interest groups in state politics, says the Los Angeles Times. Last week, a federal court officer landed what a union executive called a “sucker punch.” It was an 85-page report by John Hagar, a special master assigned by a federal judge to help oversee changes at the maximum-security Pelican Bay State Prison. The report describes a code of silence among officers, refers to the “long arm of CCPOA’s influence over the highest level” in the state corrections department, and alleges that the union repeatedly seeks to derail internal affairs investigations.
A “minority of rogue officers” can establish a code of silence and “create an overall atmosphere of deceit and corruption,” the report said. “And if the minority are supported by a powerful labor organization, and the union as well as management condones the code of silence, the consequences are severe.”
The union’s new president, Mike Jimenez, took over last year from Don Novey, who took office in 1980 and built the group into a powerhouse. It lost a champion when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ousted Gray Davis last fall. The union did not help Davis fend off the recall.
Schwarzenegger is calling on the union to make concessions to help ease the state’s budget woes. He refuses to take contributions from public employee unions. The corrections officers union has $2.34 million for candidates. The California Republican Party is expecting it to make good on a pledge to give the GOP $250,000 this year. Robert Stern of the nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said, “My guess is that [Schwarzenegger] is not going to want to alienate a group like the prison guards, and they won’t want to alienate him.”
Few elected officials disparage the union publicly. The union has sent five- and six-figure donations to opposition candidates and dug up unpleasant facts to derail candidates who fall out of favor. State Sen. Jackie Speier, who is taking part in oversight hearings over the correcctions department, said she had been told that in the union’s view, she had “crossed the line” with her investigations. “If the prison guards come after me, so be it,” she said.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a state investigator who wrote a report condemning the way Folsom prison officials handled a 2002 riot has been fired by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger days before he was to testify at state Senate hearings. John Chen, chief deputy director of the agency that acts as a watchdog over the penal system, was given under eight hours to pack his belongings and get out of his office Friday.
Chen is expected to testify this week that the Office of the Inspector General should be beefed up to handle oversight better of the 33 state prisons; Schwarzenegger wants to eliminate the office.
A spokesman for Schwarzenegger denied that Chen’s removal had anything to do with the hearings, saying the governor was simply replacing an appointee of former Gov. Gray Davis.