Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has put California’s troubled prison system in the hands of a new leader who vowed to improve relations with the guards union, a powerful political force blamed in part for the departures of the last two corrections chiefs. The appointment of James Tilton came a day after acting Corrections Secretary Jeanne Woodford stepped down, the second top official in two months to quit amid concerns about union influence over prison management.
Tilton, 57, said he “always had a good working relationship” with the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. during his 13 years with the prison system. Tilton has worked most recently in the Department of Finance. As Schwarzenegger runs for reelection this year, political analysts said, he may be trying to assuage the guards union, an influential campaign player that has been highly critical of his policies. Its leaders have poured millions of dollars into past statewide races, and Schwarzenegger needs to neutralize the union. His campaign can’t “run the risk of being on the short end of a media campaign saying that Gov. Schwarzenegger is soft on crime,” said Bill Whalen of the Hoover Institution.