Who Hijacked Our Country

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

California's Corrupt Prison System

“You can tell everything about a society from the state of its prisons.” We’re all familiar with that quote by Tolstoy. America locks up a greater percentage of its population than any other country in the world.

And when it comes to having a corrupt festering prison system, California — supposedly a progressive state — stands head and shoulders above the rest of the country. Murders of prisoners, prison guard brutality cases going unpunished — no other state even comes close.

The prison guards’ union — officially it’s the California Correctional Peace Officers Association — has 31,000 members. They have one of the state’s largest political action committees. They probably have more wealth and more clout than any other organization in California.

They’re completely immune to any outside interference or investigation. For cases of brutality or corruption, they investigate themselves and conclude that everything is just fine.

They have California’s government locked in a scrotal grip. Everyone's scared shitless of them. They’re completely free and unaccountable. Most California politicians would rather give the finger to a Mafia boss than have a conflict with the prison guards’ union.

California’s prison guards are already the highest paid in the country, and they’ve been averaging a 10% pay raise in the past few years. Some of them have 6-figure salaries. Pretty nice package, considering they basically make their own rules and exonerate themselves whenever an “investigation” needs to be simulated.

When Schwarzenegger was running for governor in 2003, he promised to take on the corrupt prison system. Hasn’t happened. Not that it’s his fault — these problems were already festering for a long time.

Schwarzenegger is facing a tough re-election campaign this November, and — like most California politicians — he’s turning to the prison guards’ union for support. The union has a $10 million war chest they were planning to use against him, but apparently he’s neutralized their anger. That’ll be his only chance. It’s political suicide for any California politician to get on the wrong side of the prison guards’ union.

In the 1980s there was a California prisoner who wrote articles for the San Francisco Chronicle. He described life behind bars. He wasn’t whining or complaining or pretending he was innocent, and his articles were an interesting glimpse into the day-to-day lives of prisoners. But at some point the Powers That Be decided that open-ness and publicity didn’t serve any purpose; secrecy was the way to go.

This wall of secrecy and unaccountability is what enables the power and corruption of the California prison guards’ union.

Because of corruption, overcrowding and lack of medical care for inmates, a U.S. district judge has threatened to put California’s entire prison system under federal control. With all due respect to states’ rights, this might be the only solution.

cross-posted at Bring It On!


Blogger Ricardo said...

The government may just turn it into another Guantanamo bay. Just my hunch.

June 15, 2006 at 12:56 AM  
Anonymous blue turtle said...

You can tell a lot about a nation by the people who RUN the penal systems.

Where is the barn we need to raise?

June 15, 2006 at 6:13 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Ricardo: Yeah, it could backfire, turning California prisons over to the feds. But they're so bad off already, they almost couldn't get any worse.

Blue Turtle: Yup, the people who run the prisons say too much about us. Unfortunately, it's those "bad apples" who get promoted and end up being in charge.

June 15, 2006 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger Mike V. said...

It's certainly nothing I AM proud of, to have this state of affairs.
Not to mention that two of the worst prisons in the country (Pelican Bay and San Quintin) are right here in my state.

The beauty (to some people) of the system as it works now, is that the bulk of the population seems to be happy to throw enough money at the prison system to make sure the bad guys are locked up.
The problem is that it in no way is a "correctional" prison system at all, only a place for breeding more criminals and creating high rates of recidivism.
I'm no pollyanna, I understand that by the time a guy gets to Pelican Bay, there ain't much left but for a nun to pray for their souls, however, if we are going to ship people off to a place for 5 years or whatever, let's try and do something so that when they come out, the can actually be productive.
This, of course, flies in the face of the prison industry. It could possibly cut DOWN on the recidivism.

June 15, 2006 at 2:08 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Mike: Yup, the prison industry is a powerful group. Some people call the 3 Strikes law the Prison Guards' Full Employment Act. Somebody getting life in prison for stealing a candy bar if they already have 2 felony convictions -- it's insane.

Rehabilitation has totally fallen through the cracks. The law-and-order types seem to forget that everyone in prison -- unless they're on Death Row -- will someday be back in the community. They'll be our neighbors and co-workers. It would be better of these people have some job skills and people skills when they re-enter the community.

I've heard that Pelican Bay and Corcoran are so bad, that when a prisoner is about to be released, he spends a week in San Quentin as sort of a halfway house before being released back to the community. I guess everything's relative.

June 15, 2006 at 2:30 PM  
Blogger dusty said...

I have blogged about this within the last six months also. Its the dirty little secret here in Cali isn't it? They riots and near-riots that have been happening are buried by the MSM for the most part. The LATimes did a good piece on this not so long ago.

June 15, 2006 at 3:28 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Dusty: The San Francisco Chronicle used to do periodic articles about California prison corruption. They had quite a few articles over a 10 - 15 year period. I thought about it when I saw an MSNBC story a few days ago (their link doesn't work any more).

June 15, 2006 at 4:08 PM  
Blogger ariadneK, Ph.D. said...

I'm a little mixed on some of this. First off, the tought of ANY entity (meaning the California prison guard folks or whatever) having such political sway, yet a majority convicted felons have much cushier lives (cable television, functional plumbing, 3 square meals a day, free education leading to a GED or Bachelor's degree, internet service, etc.) than many homeless people...who are often so through no fault of their own.

Sorry, just my 2 cents. Random, but me. :-)

June 15, 2006 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Ariadnek: Your 2 cents is always welcome. I'm not a bit sympathetic toward any criminal who actually harmed another person. Unfortunately, a large percentage of people in jail are only guilty of offending somebody's sense of "decency" (i.e., victimless crimes). And like you say, it's totally wrong for any group (in this case the prison guards' union) to have so much clout.

When bitter, hateful un-rehabilitated prisoners are released into the community (as most of them are) it becomes everybody's problem.

June 15, 2006 at 9:19 PM  
Blogger ariadneK, Ph.D. said...

Excellent response, Tom, and I agree with you.

On another line of thought altogether, I would really like to see fucking "white-collar criminals" like the Enron fuckheads (and countless others) go through the same hardcore shit that convicts of true crimes against others have to go through: white-collar crime is in some ways MORE abusive to larger numbers of people than anything else.

June 15, 2006 at 9:58 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Ariadnek: Corporate criminals -- don't get me started. Brutal prison guards, 300-pound inmates and Kenneth Lay -- a match made in Heaven.

That's been one of my pet peeves for decades -- somebody getting 20 years for smoking marijuana while a corporate robber baron gets slapped on the wrist. Totally unacceptable.

June 15, 2006 at 10:09 PM  
Blogger Mike V. said...


Like that would ever happen.

Jack Abramhoff would finally find out what a different kind of kosher meat means if he had to go to San Quintin..

June 15, 2006 at 10:09 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Mike: True, it'll never happen. But dreams can be a good thing, so they say.

Jack Abramoff -- now there's somebody who deserves to be brutalized by guards and "seduced" by his cellmate.

June 15, 2006 at 11:30 PM  
Blogger ariadneK, Ph.D. said...

Tom, I would totally have a triple orgasm were I to witness Ken Lay getting gang-banged by a horde of angry prison veterans. FUCK YEAH. I can't contain myself...may need to go masturbate to the very mental image. ;-)

June 16, 2006 at 12:04 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Man, you hit hard! I'm not quite sure if I'd want to actually witness that scene, but it sure would be poetic. Couldn't happen to a nicer person.

June 16, 2006 at 1:14 AM  
Blogger alexia_jill said...

Angelides (who is running against schwarzenegger) is not much better. He is going completely over to the guards for support by saying if elected he will bring back the tougher crime punishments and build more prisons at full force. I suppose its the lesser of two evils, but at least we have seen schwarzenegger establish something for the better, even if he is giving into the guards for their votes come reelection.

August 3, 2006 at 2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what i feel after reading such an article, is pure fear. If the people who are supposed to protect you are turning like this, it can only mean one thing: that no matter what people say it will turn out bad for them.

January 6, 2009 at 12:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who has done some time for a DUI and a DV charge, I can tell u that I never feared the inmates but I did fear the guards. Once in there, you are at their mercy and I always wondered what these guards must be like on the outside with wifes and children, I think it would be terrifing living with someone who is use to getting his was ALL THE TIME. I would gladly go to a felons home then a Guards. Laws don't matter to these people.

February 26, 2009 at 3:27 AM  

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