This editorial appeared in The Sacramento Bee.
Of all the factors driving California's budget crisis, none is harder to deal with than the out-of-control costs of the state's prisons. To understand why, a bit of history is in order.
The prison problems are complicated, but one organization lies at the heart of all the complexities. That is the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
Given the CCPOA's current influence in California politics, it's hard to believe that it was once an organization of 2,500 members with little clout. That changed in the 1980s, when the union combined parole officers with prison guards. With larger numbers and dues, CCPOA began to press for longer prison terms and more prisons (with more guards) – and for higher salaries and more say in prison management.
And realizing it needed a sympathetic face to win public support, CCPOA was instrumental in creating a crime victims' movement. As the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice describes it, "The CCPOA brought money; crime victims brought a pretty face."
As the union's membership grew, so did its campaign coffers. To advance its agenda, CCPOA wielded campaign contributions and threats of electoral defeat. It flexed its muscle at every level, from the governor to the Legislature to district attorneys, and among politicians of both parties.
The union's single greatest victory, however, was its 2001-2006 contract, greased by more than $3 million in campaign contributions. That contract increased prison guard salaries out of proportion to other state employees and decreased management's day-to-day control of prisons.
To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.