Investigations into the first death of a California prison guard in 20 years describe a dilapidated state prison on the verge of chaos and send a wider message that change is needed for the Department of Corrections, reports the San Jose Mercury News. The inquiries focus on the California Institute for Men at Chino where Manuel A. Gonzalez Jr., a 16-year veteran guard, was killed in January. The reports spell out problems in chilling detail: broken windows and piles of trash, the use of convicts to manage the prison, and a disregard for the warden’s orders. Some say the findings reflect deeper problems at all 32 state prisons in the $6.5 billion-a-year Department of Corrections. “This goes beyond Chino,” said state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles. “I think it really shows a culture of negligence and failed leadership. If it happened there, it could happen somewhere else.”
A key question state politicians have wrestled with since the massive growth of California prisons in the 1980s and 1990s: Despite spending nearly $30 billion in the past five years, are prisons any better run or safer for officers and inmates? “It’s all but impossible to manage those institutions consistent with safety and security,” said Steve Fama, an attorney with the Prison Law Office, which has brought numerous lawsuits against the department. The killing of Gonzalez at Chino has turned into a rallying cry for the prison officers union, which has lost much of the political access it had under former Gov. Gray Davis.