Skip navigation
The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct - Header

Carrasco and Petersilia Paper Re Ccpoa Political Influence and Impact on Efforts to Reform Ca Docr 2006

Download original document:
Brief thumbnail
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
Assessing the CCPOA’s political influence and its impact on efforts to
reform the California corrections system

Ben Carrasco
California Prison Reform
Prof. Joan Petersilia, Ph.D.
January 27, 2006

1
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

Electronic copy of this paper is available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=977005

Table of Contents

Abstract……………………………………………………………………..3
Introduction…………………………………………………………………3-4
Overview of the CCPOA……………………………………………………5-6
Wielding Influence: What Candidates & Initiatives Does the
CCPOA Support?............................................................................................6-12
Influencing state and local races…………………………………………….12-14
CCPOA & Victims’ Rights Groups………………………………………....14-15
CCPOA & Three Strikes…………………………………………………….15-18
CCPOA & Affiliate Groups………………………………………………….18-19
CCPOA Public Relations Campaign…………………………………………20-22
CCPOA’s impact on specific reform efforts…………………………………22-25
CCPOA Responds to criticism………………………………………………..25-27
Solutions: Can the CCPOA’s political power be curbed?.................................27-29

2
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

Electronic copy of this paper is available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=977005

Abstract
Over the last twenty years, prison reform has an increasingly vital priority for the state of
California. With skyrocketing deficits and a prison population that is growing inexorably,
exploring criminal justice solutions outside of the traditional law and order “lock –em up”
paradigm is becoming indispensable to the state’s fiscal stability. Reforming three strikes and
emphasizing more rehabilitation, for example, are the types of reforms that might hold promise
for reducing California’s prison population. This paper examines what many perceive to be an
obstacle to reform: the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA)--the Prison
Guard Union. More specifically, it explores how the CCPOA developed into the state’s most
formidable labor union, how it uses that power to influence elections, and the implications of its
power on the wider corrections debate and prospects for change.
INTRODUCTION
Capitalizing on a wave of intense voter frustration with a political system awash in
corruption, cronyism, and special interest cash, Arnold Schwarzenegger was swept into the
governor’s mansion in 2004 with a simple but bold mandate: to clean up the “mess” in
Sacramento. Confronted with a mammoth budget deficit approaching $30 billion and a hostile
legislature resistant to change, the new governor quickly learned that his sweeping promises
would require painful political choices—choices that would antagonize entrenched special
interests and their patrons in the legislature. Amid this daunting political and fiscal backdrop,
prison reform emerged as a central issue on the governor’s agenda.
California’s bloated and dysfunctional corrections system epitomizes what is wrong with
state government---hopelessly inefficient, captive of special interests, and growing beyond its
means. Costing taxpayers more than $7.1 billion a year and housing over 165,000 inmates, the
California prison system is a fiscal time bomb that threatens to swallow up other state priorities.1
For the governor to fulfill his promises to both tame the deficit and invest in education, it has
become increasingly clear that overhauling the state’s corrections system will be vital priority.
Nearly two years after the recall, however, progress has been frustratingly slow. This
paper examines what many commentators and policy analysts view to be one of the chief
obstacles to reforming the California corrections system: the California Correctional Peace
Officers’ Association (CCPOA). Specifically, this paper addresses how the CCPOA came to
wield such broad political influence and how that influence has impacted reform efforts. Key
themes include the CCPOA’s emergence as one of the state’s most powerful unions and how its
lobbying and political activities have contributed to California’s growing prison population.
While the CCPOA shouldn’t shoulder all the blame for the state’s corrections failures, the
research reveals the union to be a stubborn opponent of change. Consequently, no reform agenda
can realistically succeed that doesn’t address this group’s political might.

Overview of the CCPOA
The CCPOA began in 1957 as the California Correctional Officers Association. Prior to
the 1980s, the group was politically weak, with a membership divided between the California
State Employees’ Association and the California Correctional Officers’ Association. The 1980s,
however, marked a fundamental shift in the union’s political reach when Don Novey assumed
control of the organization. Under his leadership, the Youth Authority Supervisors, parole
officers, and prison guards were consolidated under one organizational umbrella; membership
1

Institute of Governmental Studies, U.C. Berkeley. (2005). California Correctional Peace Officers
Association. Retrieved from http://www.igs.berkeley.edu/library/htCaliforniaPrisonUnion.htm

3
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

soared as a result.2 Novey also launched an aggressive PR campaign, spending over half a million
dollars a year during the 1980s to boost the union’s public profile. These organizational changes
coincided with external political and social developments that would become instrumental to the
CCPOA’s growth strategy. First, crime in California began to surge. Fueled in part by
demographic changes, both youth and violent crime peaked in the 1980s. Politicians responded to
the resulting public anxiety by advocating punitive, “tough on crime” initiatives which led to
dramatic increases in arrests, particularly for drug crimes. The surge in arrestees in turn spurred a
prison building boom—of the 31 prisons in California, 21 have opened since 1984.3 The legacy
of these mutually reinforcing trends is startling: an inmate population that leads the nation at
165,000, up 35,000 since 1995 at a cost in 2004 of $5.7 billion, and a tripling in the number of
California prisons since 1980.4 According to one estimate, the cost of feeding and housing each
California inmate is nearly $31,000 a year, far in excess of the national average5. Not
surprisingly, the escalating inmate population and prison costs have occurred in lockstep with the
CCPOA’s swelling ranks, budget, and political power. The number of prison guards currently
stands at approximately 31,000. Meanwhile, average guard salaries have skyrocketed, from
$14,440 per year in 1980 to $54,000 in 2002—with overtime, it is not uncommon for guards to
earn in excess of $100,000.6 The state corrections budget has experienced a corresponding
explosion, from $923 million in 1985 to $5.7 billion in 2004.7
The CCPOA has leveraged these mutually supporting social and political trends toward
creating one of Sacramento’s most formidable political machines. In 2002, the union ranked 5th
among California labor groups in donations to state candidates, contributing nearly $1.5 million,
according to the Institute on Money in State Politics. Governor Gray Davis, for example, received
more than $3 million from the prison guard union.8 The formula is simple: more prisoners leads
to more prisons; more prisons require more guards; more guards equal more fundraising
capability; fundraising, of course, translates into political influence. The unfortunate result for
California taxpayers is a fiscally unsustainable status quo.
Wielding influence: What candidates and initiatives does the CCPOA support?
The foundation of all political influence is money, and the CCPOA’s chief source of
funding is its substantial membership. According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice,
97 percent of CCPOA personnel are organized. 9 As of 2002, members pay $59 a month in dues,
while non-members pay a monthly “agency” or “fare share” fee. 10 With thirty-one thousand
members, these dues translate into collections of $1.8 million a month and $21.9 million a year in
dues. 11 The CCPOA’s vast war-chest serves as the foundation for its increasing power and
influence. CCPOA political activity exceeds that of other labor unions: In the 1998 and 2000
election cycles, for example, it outspent the California Teachers’ Union (CTA) with only a tenth
of the membership. 12
2

Id.
Id.
4
Id.
5
Schmidt, Steve. (April 18, 2005). Troubled System: Governor Faces Uphill Battle Reforming Prisons. San
Diego Union-Tribune.
6
Institute of Governmental Studies, U.C. Berkeley. (2005). California Correctional Peace Officers
Association. Retrieved from http://www.igs.berkeley.edu/library/htCaliforniaPrisonUnion.htm
7
Id.
8
Martin, Mark & Podger, Pamela. (February 2, 2004). Prison guards’ clout difficult to challenge. San
Francisco Chronicle.
9
(November 15, 2005). Political Power of the CCPOA. Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice. Retrieved
from http://www.cjcj.or/cpp/political_power.php
10
Id.
11
Id.
12
Id.
3

4
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

The CCPOA lathers money on all branches of California government and heavily
subsidizes affiliate groups that share similar priorities, most notably victims’ rights groups.
Moreover, the CCPOA is not driven by partisan allegiances—it contributes heavily to both
political parties. During the 1994 election cycle, the CCPOA contributed $425,000 to Republican
Pete Wilson—reportedly the largest single donation ever made to a California candidate—until
this figure was eclipsed by the more than two million dollars contributed to Democrat Gray Davis
in 2002.
CCPOA political contributions flow from the union’s four political action committees:
the CCPOA independent expenditures committee (the principal committee for funding statewide
candidates and initiatives); the CCPOA issues committee (provides soft money to state political
parties, advocacy groups, and initiatives); and two local PACs that contribute primarily to local
candidates (district attorneys) and causes. The following chart illustrates the breadth of CCPOA
political activity during recent election cycles: 13
Date
Recipient
Amount
2005-1006
2005

Alliance for a Better California
Californians For Tax Fairness

$1.9 million
$250 thousand

2005

No on 75

$100 thousand

2005

$40 thousand

2005

Californians United For Public
Safety (No on 66)
Alliance for a Better California

2004

No on 66

$500 thousand

2002

California Democratic Party

$100 thousand

2002

California Republican Party

$30 thousand

2002

Gray Davis

2000
1998

Californians United Against
Drug Abuse (Prop. 36)
Senator John Burton

$2 million
(approx.)
$50 thousand

1998

Cal. Dem & Republican Parties

1998

No on 226 (prevents unions and
employers from taking money
from members or employees’
paychecks for political purposes
w/out their consent

13

$1 million

Note: The union
maintains four distinct
PACs—this contribution
was made by the
CCPOA Political Action
Committee; the $1.9
million contribution was
made by the CCPOA
Issues Committee

$200 thousand
$100 thousand to
each
$100 thousand

Data retrieved from http://cal-access.ss.ca.gov/Campaign/Candidates/

5
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

1998
1998

1998
1998

Doris Tate Crime Victims
Bureau
Allen Pross, Crime Victims
United of California Executive
Director
Native American Peace
Officers
Gray Davis

$175,000
$130,000

$90,000
$946,000

The pattern of political contributions illustrated above starkly affirms the CCPOA’s
extensive influence and provides ammunition for critics who accuse the union of opposing
common sense reforms. Additionally, these figures reveal the willingness of the CCPOA to
collaborate with traditional rivals—such as the California Teachers Union—to oppose reform
efforts that would curtail its influence—most notably Governor Schwarzenegger’s recent spate of
initiatives.
The nearly $2 million contributed to the Alliance for a Better California, for example,
was spent to defeat the governor’s reform initiatives in 2005. According to its website, the
Alliance is “a coalition of nearly 2.5 million teachers, firefighters, nurses, police officers,
healthcare workers, and average, every day people who are devoting our careers to helping
others…”14 This contribution is significant for two reasons: 1) it demonstrates the willingness of
the CCPOA to form alliances with historical rivals to defeat initiatives that threaten the collective
political clout of California labor unions; and 2) it reflects the CCPOA’s continuing political
dominance despite rising public antagonism toward “special interests” and the perceived
“business as usual” climate in Sacramento. Prior to the 2005 referendum, some experts, such as
Boalt Hall’s Professor Frank Zimring, predicted a sharp decline in the CCPOA’s political
influence following a decade of unprecedented generosity from Sacramento political patrons
during the 1990s. 15 Zimring argues that a unique confluence of events—specifically the passage
of Three Strikes in 1994 and Gray Davis’s subsequent victory in 1998 on the heels of substantial
financial support from the CCPOA, created a political atmosphere that was unusually hospitable
to CCPOA priorities. 16
Recognizing the instrumental role the CCPOA played in reviving Pete Wilson’s flagging
re-election prospects in 1994 by tapping into voter angst over crime, Davis embraced similarly
aggressive tough on crime themes in his campaign and, once in office, zealously catered to
CCPOA interests—such as approving a five year labor agreement that could eventually increase
annual prison-guard salaries to $73,000 and includes provisions that allow guards to dictate which
shifts they work and a relaxation of sick-leave requirements. 17 Zimring characterizes the 1990s as
a historical aberration—an unlikely convergence of forces (budget surpluses, punitive public
attitudes toward crime, and a union friendly governor) that was destined to unravel. 18 He cites the
recall as the end of the budget free-for-all for California unions: facing a public backlash against
Davis and the culture of cronyism his administration embodied, the CCPOA would be forced to
scale back its influence. 19 As a Republican enjoying strong public support and a mandate built on
anti-establishment sentiment, Governor Schwarzenegger “doesn’t have the same vulnerabilities as
14

Retrieved from: www.betterca.com
James, Stephen. March, 17, 2005. Decline of the Empire. Retrieved from
http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/Home
16
Id.
17
Id.
18
Id.
19
Id.
15

6
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

Davis,” according to Zimring. 20 Schwarzenegger’s Republican label combined with the public’s
decreasing preoccupation with crime gives him more latitude to challenge the status quo on
criminal justice issues and pursue moderate, cost effective reforms with little fear of political
retribution. 21
The 2005 special election, however, reveals this analysis to be shortsighted.
Schwarzenegger’s initial burst of momentum has dissipated amid Sacramento’s stubborn political
realities. Despite proclaiming in his 2005 State of the State Address that the California
correctional system was burdened by “too much political influence, too much union control, and
too little management courage,” the governor has failed to implement meaningful corrections
reforms or lessen the CCPOA’s political grip. 22 After a series of missteps, Schwarzenegger’s
political standing now parallels Davis’: he currently ranks among the most unpopular governors
in California history, with an approval rating of 31 percent (Davis’ approval stood at 22 percent
in August, 2003). 23
The CCPOA shoulders much of the credit for reversing the governor’s political fortunes.
Collaborating with the state’s other labor unions and spending over $2 million to engineer a
stunning, across the board defeat of the governor’s initiatives in the special election, the CCPOA
sent a resounding signal to the political class of its abiding capacity to shape public attitudes and
control the state’s agenda. Apparently, the predicted decline in the CCPOA’s political power was
misguided. More importantly, the 2005 Special Election demonstrated the CCPOAs resiliency—
its ability not only to respond to prevailing political conditions, but shape them as well. The
governor’s declining popularity, for example, is in part a byproduct of the CCPOA’s masterful
public relations campaign. More than any of his predecessors, Schwarzenegger staked the success
of his administration on the outcome of a special election, mortgaging his political capital and
personally identifying himself with the initiatives. Ultimately, the election became a contest
between the governor and the “special interests” arrayed against him. The governor lost.
By joining forces with more sympathetic interests—teachers and nurses—the CCPOA
played a critical role in undermining public support for the initiatives. The dramatic election
results illustrated the CCPOA’s ability to influence elections even when crime is not a dominant
theme.
Influencing state & local races
The CCPOA political machine is equally aggressive at the local level. Between 1996 and
2000, the CCPOA gave at least $108,000 to local district attorneys. 24 Why does the CCPOA
invest so heavily in local races? There are two views: according to the Center on Juvenile and
Criminal Justice, the CCPOA involves itself locally to stave off prosecutions of corrections
officers accused of abuse or misconduct.25 Between 1989 and 1999, 39 inmates were shot to
death, and 200 more were wounded. Not one district attorney in the state prosecuted a
correctional officer for any of these assaults.26 For example, when Greg Strickland, former district
attorney in Kings County (home to Corcoran state correctional facility) attempted to take a
brutality case to the grand jury, the CCPOA provided his opponent with $30,000 in the next

20

Id.
Id.
22
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. January, 2005. State of the State Address. Retrieved from
www.governor.ca.gov
23
Wildermuth, John. (June 21, 2005). Support for Governor Plunging. San Francisco Chronicle.
24
(November 15, 2005). Political Power of the CCPOA. Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice. Retrieved
from http://www.cjcj.or/cpp/political_power.php
25
Id.
26
Id.
21

7
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

election, leading to Strickland’s defeat.27 Similarly, Bill Cornell, the district attorney of Del Norte
County (home of Pelican Bay State Prison) was targeted by the CCPOA after he successfully
prosecuted guard Jose Garcia for orchestrating inmate-on-inmate assaults and other
wrongdoing.28 The CCPOA provided Cornell’s opponent with $20,000—reportedly the largest
contribution ever made in the rural county.29
The CCPOA, on the other hand, posits a much more innocuous explanation for its
involvement in local races: According to CCPOA Vice President Lance Corcoran, the union gets
involved in local district-attorney races to establish early bonds with local leaders who may move
up the political ladder in the future. 30 Moreover, Corcoran claims that the union specifically
targeted Strickland and Cornell because they were investigating or prosecuting guards, and not
prosecuting prisoners who assaulted staff. 31 Both Strickland and Cornell emphatically deny the
charges, citing their strong records of prosecuting inmate crimes. 32
The state legislature attempted to respond to the CCPOA’s perceived political
intimidation of local DAs by introducing SB451 in 1999, a bill that would have removed prison
brutality cases from the purview of local prosecutors and placed them in the hands of the attorney
general. SB451 passed the Senate, but, predictably, met intense opposition from a single enemy—
the CCPOA—and died in the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee. 33
Members of the state legislature who have been at the forefront of prison reform have
also been targeted by the CCPOA. State Senator Jackie Spier is the legislature’s most aggressive
proponent for corrections reform as well as a vocal CCPOA critic. From her post on the Senate
Select Committee on Government Oversight, she has launched investigations into how the
California Department of Corrections spends its money and introduced a series of bills aimed at
prison reform.34 Unfortunately, her efforts have largely been in vain: few of her proposals,
including a recent bill that sought to prevent the building of new prisons until officials reduce the
recidivism rate, have been embraced by her colleagues out of fear of political retribution from the
CCPOA.35 Now running for Lt. Governor, Speier contends the union has vowed to spend $1
million to defeat her.36
In contrast, the CCPOA has lavishly supported its political allies in the legislature. Senate
Majority Leader John Burton, for example, who sponsored a bill in 2002 that lifted correctional
officer salaries as high as $73,000, received $200,000 from the CCPOA during the 1998 election
cycle.37
The CCPOA and Victims Rights Groups
In any political contest dealing with corrections issues, the CCPOA enjoys an inherent
advantage that is the bane of prison reform generally— prison inmates are among the least
27

Lockyer loses a round; Guards defeat effort to bolster prison prosecutions. The Fresno Bee. July 18,
1999.
28
James, Stephen. March, 17, 2005. Decline of the Empire. Retrieved from
http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/Home
29
Id.
30
Id.
31
Id.
32
Id.
33
Id.
34
Katayama, Lisa. (July 7, 2005). Reforming California’s Prisons: An interview with Jackie Spier. Mother
Jones.
35
Another View: Prison Reform. (September 2, 2004) Retrieved from www.vvdailypress.com;
36
James, Stephen. March, 17, 2005. Decline of the Empire. Retrieved from
http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/Home
37
(November 15, 2005). Political Power of the CCPOA. Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice. Retrieved
from http://www.cjcj.or/cpp/political_power.php

8
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

sympathetic figures in our political system. Reforming three strikes and placing more emphasis
on rehabilitation to reduce the prison population might be objectively sound policy proposals, but
as long as reformers are vulnerable to being branded as “soft on crime” and voter fears can be
stoked by ominous warnings about “revolving doors” and impending crime waves, achieving
fundamental change in how we manage prisons will remain an elusive goal. The Special Election
demonstrated that even Republicans, who have historically been viewed as more credible and
hard-headed on crime, are not insulated from this longstanding staple of American political
demagoguery.
Prison guards are not exactly voter favorites either—they don’t benefit from the
romanticized air of virtue and self-sacrifice associated with farmers, teachers, and police officers,
for example. Still, when pitted against inmates and criminals, there is no contest. The CCPOA has
deftly exploited voter fears of crime, opposing efforts to reform Three Strikes and aligning itself
with victims groups to sustain the “lock ‘em up” status-quo.
Additionally, they have cultivated an image of professionals under siege—working the “toughest
beat in California,” they face constant dangers from a violent and unruly population. Voters might
be fed up with the state’s budget mess, but when confronted with the CCPOA’s slick propaganda
machine, they are reluctant to support progressive corrections reforms—regardless of the savings.
CCPOA & Three Strikes
Enacted in the wake of the Polly Klaas abduction in 1994, California’s three strikes law is
a classic example of voter overreach—irrational fears producing bad policy. The CCPOA was
one of Proposition 184’s early backers and biggest financial boosters. 38 Congressman Michael
Huffington was the initiative’s principal donor, followed by the CCPOA, which contributed
$101,000.39 Why would a labor union, whose traditional function is to negotiate contracts and
promote better working conditions for its members, involve itself so heavily in a sentencing
initiative —particularly one that would seemingly impose a greater burden on its members?
Critics contend that the CCPOA is simply seeking to expand the prison population to boost the
number of guards. The CCPOA counters that Three Strikes is a sound, aggressive response to
revolving door sentencing.
However, the legacy of Three Strikes has been mixed. Under Proposition 184, which
passed with 72% of the vote, a person who committed one prior violent or serious offense and
who committed any new felony could receive twice the normal prison sentence for the new
felony (the “second strike”). 40 A person who committed two or more prior violent or serious
offences and then committed any new felony would automatically receive 25 years to life in
prison. 41 While the law has kept more felons locked up longer—some assessments of the law’s
impact have concluded that major crime in California has decreased by 50% or more since the
law’s implementation—the cost has been staggering. 42 According to a report from the Legislative
Analyst, almost fifty thousand inmates were imprisoned as second and third strikers by
September 1999.43 Critics also blame Three Strikes as at least partly responsible for the state’s
skyrocketing prison budget—from $1 billion to over $6 billion between 1983 and 2004. 44
Finally, the law has come under fire for its disproportionate impact on non-violent offenders: By
December 31, 2001, California had convicted 7,072 people for Third Strike offenses and 34,656
38

(November 15, 2005). Political Power of the CCPOA. Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice. Retrieved
from http://www.cjcj.or/cpp/political_power.php
39
Id.
40
Proposition 66: Limitations on Three Strikes Law. Retrieved from
www.igs.berkeley.edu/library/htThreeStrikesProp66.htm
41
Id.
42
Id.
43
Id.
44
Id.

9
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

people for second strike offenses, with the highest offense rate by second and third strikers being
for possession of a controlled substance rather than violent crimes. 45
Three Strikes’ disparate impact on non-violent offenders and its huge costs inspired
reformers to introduce Proposition 66 in 2004, which sought to limit felonies that could trigger
second and third strikes to violent or serious crimes.46 By 2004, the political climate in California
had shifted considerably---crime no longer dominated voter concerns and the public seemed
receptive to pragmatic, cost-effective corrections solutions. A June, 2004 field poll found 76% of
respondents in favor of Prop. 66.47 However, despite this early public support, an array of
prominent figures coalesced in opposition to the measure, including Gov. Schwarzenegger,
Attorney General Lockyer, the CCPOA, and assorted victims’ rights groups. As noted in the
previous chart, the CCPOA contributed over half a million dollars to defeat the measure and
funneled additional support to victims rights groups. The governor campaigned aggressively
against the proposition, warning voters that passage would release “26,000 dangerous criminals,”
a figure disputed by two neutral analyses of the measure’s projected impact.48 On election day,
the measure was soundly defeated by five percentage points.49
It is not clear whether the Governor’s opposition to Prop. 66 was rooted in legitimate
policy considerations or simply a strategic political calculation intended to avoid alienating key
segments of his base. Perhaps the governor wanted to avoid expending precious political capital
early in his term that would weaken his position in later, more important budget fights. In light of
the governor’s professed commitment to challenging the status quo and confronting the state’s
fiscal crisis, his opposition to a measure that held real promise for alleviating an over-burdened
prison system was puzzling.
Prop. 66’s demise illustrates the formidable political obstacles that face progressive
criminal justice reforms. Because initiatives such as Prop. 66 are uniquely susceptible to
distortion and demagoguery, and their supporters vulnerable to being tarred as “liberal” or worse,
politicians will continue to be reluctant advocates for such measures. Meanwhile, the CCPOA
will continue to exploit voter prejudice against prisoners to undermine reform efforts.
CCPOA and affiliate groups
In addition to supporting anti crime initiatives such as Three Strikes that appeal to voter
fears, the CCPOA has augmented its political influence by supporting causes and groups that
appeal to voters’ natural sympathy for victims. Jeff Thompson, a lobbyist for both the CCPOA
and Crime Victims United of California (CVUC) explained the dynamic at work: “Nobody feels
empathetic for prison guards, but everyone’s got sympathy for crime victims.” 50 The alliance
between the CCPOA and crime victims groups such as the CVUC and Doris Tate Crime Victims
Bureau (CVB) is based on similar goals: longer sentencing, tougher laws, and more rights for law
enforcement.51 Crime victims’ groups, however, project a much more appealing public face than
burly union guards. By combining the financial muscle of the CCPOA with the public relations
strengths of victims’ groups, the CCPOA can advance its goals without alienating voters who
would be otherwise skeptical of the union’s motives.
45

(November 15, 2005). Political Power of the CCPOA. Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice. Retrieved
from http://www.cjcj.or/cpp/political_power.php
46
Proposition 66: Limitations on Three Strikes Law. Retrieved from
www.igs.berkeley.edu/library/htThreeStrikesProp66.htm
47
Id.
48
Martin, Mark. (October 29, 2004). Schwarzenegger Steps Up Opposition to Prop. 66. San Francisco
Chronicle.
49
Proposition 66: Limitations on Three Strikes Law. Retrieved from
www.igs.berkeley.edu/library/htThreeStrikesProp66.htm
50
(November 15, 2005). Political Power of the CCPOA. Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice. Retrieved
from http://www.cjcj.or/cpp/political_power.php
51
Id.

10
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

The CCPOA is, without question, the financial and organizational lifeblood of victims’
groups. For example, the CCPOA provided the CVUC with office space, telephones, attorneys,
lobbying staff, and 95% of its initial funding. 52 According to CVUC Executive Director Al Pross,
“If CCPOA hadn’t helped us, we wouldn’t have CVUC. They saw a need for a statewide
umbrella entity instead of individuals and local groups of victims each doing their own thing and
they filled it.”53 The CCPOA was similarly generous to the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau,
providing office space, staff, and 78% of its early funding. 54
There is nothing inherently sinister about the CCPOA teaming up with victims groups to
advance its policy goals—coalition forming among groups with common interests is nothing new
in politics. Critics, on the other hand, characterize the CCPOA’s partnership with victims groups
as a cynical tactic to piggyback off a more voter-friendly face.55. The larger concern, however,
should be policy based—does the CCPOA’s alliance with victims groups obstruct sensible prison
reforms? The answer to this question is a contested issue, with experts on both sides able to
marshal strong arguments over whether a given reform proposal is “sensible.” But, assuming that
reducing the prison population and adopting a less draconian sentencing regime are critical to
reducing the corrections budget, the impact of the coordinated campaign between the CCPOA
and victims groups in undermining such efforts is presumably significant.

The CCPOA Public Relations Campaign
The final prong in the CCPOA’s political arsenal is a well-orchestrated public relations
campaign. In order to counter the stigma associated with labor unions and a recent flurry of
negative press regarding corruption, staged fights in prison, abuse of inmates at the youth
facilities, etc, the CCPOA has invested heavily in promoting an image of prison guards as gritty
professionals who work “the toughest beat in the state.” With the help of prominent public
relations firms (the CCPOA has spent $361,000 on public relations campaigns created primarily
by McNally Temple Associates), the CCPOA has produced publications and commercials that
highlight the brutality of inmates, portraying them as “predators” who terrorize guards with
impunity.56 One video that shows scenes of staged violence where inmates overtake correctional
officers characterizes the inmate population as a “predatory element [that] is always on the
hunt.”57 The guards, in contrast, are portrayed as law enforcement’s unsung heroes. One scene
portrays guards kissing their kids goodbye, not knowing if they will see them again.58
Critics argue that CCPOA promotional materials exaggerate the risks faced by
corrections officers to justify higher corrections salaries. The evidence, however, reveals that
violence against guards has escalated of late. Statistics compiled by the California Department of
Corrections show a significant increase in assaults over the past year at two of the state’s six most
troublesome prisons, but no major change at the other four.59 There were a dozen assaults at the
California Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison during the first three months of 2003,
though that figure increased to 20 in the final three months of 2003 and to 21 the first three
months of this year.60 On April 2, 2004, a guard at this facility was knocked to the ground and
52

Id.
Id.
54
Id.
55
Id.
56
(November 15, 2005). Political Power of the CCPOA. Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice. Retrieved
from http://www.cjcj.or/cpp/political_power.php
57
(1996). In Harm’s Way: Life Inside the Toughest Beat in California.
58
Id.
59
Thompson, Don. Guards the ones doing ‘Hard Time,’ Union says. Associated Press.
60
Id.
53

11
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

repeatedly kicked in the head and body by at least four inmates. 61 Explanations for the spike in
assaults vary, with union spokesman attributing it to negative publicity that has emboldened
inmates to lash out, while Kings County DA Patrick Hart speculates that it stems from new
restrictions on smoking and other activities.62
On the other hand, there is also evidence suggesting the image projected by the CCPOA
of a workforce under siege is skewed. For example, while assaults against corrections officials are
deplorable and underscore the hazards of prison life, the number of workplace deaths is far lower
than comparable occupations. In 1999, there was one correctional officer killed in the line of
duty. In contrast, machine operators and farm workers experience significantly more on-the-job
fatalities while earning half the salary as corrections officers. 63 Similarly, other professionals that
come into contact with prison elements, and presumably are vulnerable to the same threats of
violence as guards, earn substantially less than guards. For example, 80% of inmates have a
history of substance abuse; yet, in 2001, rehabilitation counselors earned only $29,400.64
The CCPOA public relations campaign, whether misleading or not, accentuates the
political vulnerabilities of the inmate population—reinforcing public fears and stereotypes and
perpetuating a climate that is inhospitable to prison reform. As previously mentioned, prisoners
already face inherent political disadvantages, with any proposed reforms easily distorted into
dangerous concessions to an unworthy population. The CCPOA’s aggressive, and effective,
public relations campaign is a further obstacle to generating the public support that is essential to
meaningful prison reform.
The CCPOA’s Impact on Specific Reform Efforts
The CCPOA’s political power is obvious: it has the money, the personnel, and the
visibility to shape the public agenda on criminal justice issues. More important, however, is how
the CCPOA has wielded its clout to influence the fate of specific reform proposals. The
CCPOA’s impact on efforts to reform Three Strikes has already been thoroughly examined. But
there are other issues, equally critical to reforming the corrections system, that have been
impacted by the CCPOA’s lobbying activity.
Parole reform
Acknowledging the urgent need to alleviate prison overcrowding and reduce costs, the
governor launched a program in 2004 that would send parole violators to halfway houses or
community-based drug programs instead of returning them to prison.65 Proponents of the measure
claimed that more than half of California’s convicts released on parole returned to prison within
two years of their release.66 Sending non-violent drug offenders to halfway houses seemed like a
sensible and innovative response to overcrowding and was applauded by progressives as a
welcome departure from an inefficient, needlessly punitive status-quo. The move was supposed to
signal a wider shift toward rehabilitation, with many believing that a popular Republican buoyed
by a public desperate for new solutions from Sacramento would be able to overcome the political
handicaps that have historically plagued progressive criminal justice approaches. But in April of
last year, the governor and his corrections chief, Rod Hickman, scrapped the program, citing
evidence that it wasn’t working.67 It is unclear what evidence the administration relied on in

61

Id.
Id.
63
(November 15, 2005). Political Power of the CCPOA. Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice. Retrieved
from http://www.cjcj.or/cpp/political_power.php
64
Id.
65
Institute of Governmental Studies, U.C. Berkeley. (2005). California Correctional Peace Officers
Association. Retrieved from http://www.igs.berkeley.edu/library/htCaliforniaPrisonUnion.htm
66
Id.
67
Warren, Jennifer. (April 9, 2005). State to Scrap Key Parole Reform. Los Angeles Times.
62

12
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

abandoning the program, or whether the move was largely a response to mounting opposition
from victims groups and the CCPOA.
The retreat highlights the complexities of prison reform—change for the sake of change
doesn’t always work and when dealing with a volatile population, where the costs of failure for
an experimental program can be dangerously high, sometimes the status-quo is the safer and more
sensible choice. Even criminologists who have long advocated for parole reform, such as Joan
Petersilia—one of her field’s most distinguished scholars—were not discouraged by the change:
“I applaud this because it’s the first time I’ve heard someone at [Hickman’s] level say, ‘were not
going to do this because there’s no evidence it’s working.’”68 Hickman went on to state that the
move should not be interpreted as an abandonment of the governor’s commitment to making
rehabilitation a central focus of his prison agenda.69 The retreat on this issue illustrates the steep
challenges facing reform—the governor’s call may have been rooted in an impartial assessment
of the evidence, but it is doubtful the opposition of the CCPOA and victims groups was based on
the same nuanced reflection. While the program was aimed only at non-violent drug offenders,
victims’ groups ran ads accusing the governor of being “soft on crime.”70
A more pressing reform issue is what commentators and policy makers have
characterized as the “code of silence” that pervades the prison system. More specifically, the
phrase describes an entrenched culture of corruption and silence in which guards accused of
misconduct are protected from outside investigators, scandals are covered up, and would-be
whistleblowers are intimidated, silenced, or worse. The problem gained prominence after U.S
District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled in 1995 that conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison
violated inmates’ rights—the judge has been overseeing reforms there ever since and has
threatened to place California prisons under federal receivership if reform isn’t forthcoming.71
According to federal report released by the judge in 2004, a whistle-blower at Pelican Bay who
reported a guard’s assault on an inmate was labeled a “rat” by a union executive and eventually
left the department because of medical problems incurred by his ordeal.72 John Hager, a special
master appointed by Henderson to work with prison officials, has been especially critical of the
CCPOA’s role in perpetuating a climate of corruption.73 He blames provisions in the union’s
labor contract that require the department to provide prompt notice to a guard anytime an inmate
files a complaint about the guard; another provision allows CCPOA officials, who may later
represent guards in disciplinary cases, to be present when prison administrators meet to discuss
allegations of brutality by officers.74
In response to the criticism, the governor and his corrections chief, Rod Hickman,
pledged reform. But they have met fierce opposition from the CCPOA. When Hickman, a former
prison official himself, suggested that not enough prison staff challenged the “code of silence,”
union President Mike Jimenez labeled him “an embarrassment to his position.”75 Meanwhile, in
the legislature, Sen. Gloria Romero, chairwoman of an oversight committee on prisons,
introduced SB 1731, a measure that sought to require investigators to turn over information about
a guard’s alleged misconduct, including the accuser’s name, before internal affairs interviews are
conducted.76 After intense lobbying by the CCPOA, the bill died. In another setback, Judge
68

Id.
Id.
70
Schmidt, Steve. (April, 18, 2005). Troubled System. San Diego Union Tribune.
71
Martin, Mark. (June 25, 2004). Guard’s Union Corrupts Prisons, Report Finds. San Francisco Chronicle.
72
Id.
73
Id.
74
(November 18, 2004). Union Barred from talks at prison. San Jose Mercury News.
75
Schmidt, Steve. (September 9, 2004). State correctional boss vows prison system reform. San
DiegoUnion-Tribune.
76
Warren, Jenifer. (August 31, 2004). Major Prison Reform Eludes Lawmakers. Los Angeles Times.
69

13
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

Henderson condemned a deal struck between the governor and the CCPOA in 2004 that gives the
union more control than management has inside prison walls (the governor claims the agreement
will save money).77
The CCPOA response:
Of course, there is another perspective on the alleged “code of silence” plaguing
California prisons. The CCPOA dismisses the characterization as a distortion by the mainstream
media. In a brief interview I conducted with CCPOA official Joe Baumann about the “code of
silence,” he cited it as another example of the mainstream media portraying the union in an
unfavorable light: “I think that often times the mainstream media portrays us in an unfavorable
light because we tend to talk past them, or we tend to take a position they clearly don’t
understand.” 78 He defended the contract provisions that have fueled so much criticism as an
essential protection for CCPOA guards:
As an organization representing a group of employees, we have a legal obligation to defend them
should the Department discipline them, or the D.A. or Feds indict them. The MSM tends to
portray our fulfillment of our legal obligations as somehow endorsing misconduct. Nothing can
be further from the truth.
To further underscore the union’s commitment to promoting a fair investigatory process, he also
highlighted specific reforms it has championed such as legislation to force the department to do
pre-employment background checks, psychological testing, a 16 week training academy, and the
establishment of an Office of Internal Affairs to make the investigative and disciplinary process
“fair and impartial for all employees…”79 Baumann’s arguments have merit. While the provisions
at issue—allowing union officials to participate in every stage of the disciplinary process—seem
like a conflict of interest, they are not unique. Most unions, including those at the federal level,
enjoy similar rights. Moreover, the potential for abuse in the absence of such protections is
obvious: investigations conducted in secret and without union input or oversight could lead to
abuses by prison management. Perhaps, then, Baumann’s criticism of the media’s failure to
highlight these competing concerns is legitimate. On the other hand, Baumann’s sincerity is
somewhat disingenuous: he did not, for example, explain the damning conclusions of Judge
Henderson’s investigation that show a disturbing pattern of intimidation directed at
whistleblowers and the union’s stubborn reluctance to ferret rogue officers out of the
organization.
Another issue that has generated controversy is overtime—with the prevailing perception
being that abuse of overtime provisions has contributed to bloated guard salaries. The union,
however, has a different explanation. Baumann lamented the over three thousand vacant guard
positions, which results in guards at some institutions having to work mandatory “8 hour shifts of
overtime two or three times per week.”80 Yet, Baumann predicts, the media will hone in on the
“guards make a $100k a year” aspect of the story and omit discussion of the high vacancies that
force guards to work overtime.81
Baumann’s perspective illuminates the often ignored, but fundamental role of a union to
aggressively represent its membership: while CCPOA tactics seem heavy-handed at times, its
agenda overly resistant to change, it also performs a critical function on behalf of its members. At
times, the media sensationalizes or distorts the CCPOA’s legitimate, good-faith advocacy on
behalf of its members. But, the evidence is also clear that the CCPOA has vigorously opposed

77

Martin, Mark. (July 21, 2004). Judge condemns deal with prison guards. San Francisco Chronicle.
Email response from Joe Baumann, December 22, 2005.
79
Id.
80
Id.
81
Id.
78

14
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

reforms that a broad spectrum of experts have concluded are essential to reigning in corrections
costs. In a sense, both sides are right and, as Baumann aptly noted, talking past each other.
Solutions: Can the CCPOA’s Political Power be Curbed?
To a large extent, finding solutions to California’s corrections crisis is easy: a substantial
body of research already exists outlining a range of policy remedies. Academic scholars have for
years touted the empirical benefits of rehabilitation and, more recently, former Governor George
Deukmejian chaired an independent panel charged with formulating a blueprint for making
California prisons more efficient. This Corrections Independent Review Panel generated 239
specific recommendations for revitalizing California corrections, addressing issues ranging from
prison culture and management to healthcare.82
The governor took some vital first steps early in his term, appointing a new corrections
chief, Rod Hickman, who pledged to aggressively promote reform, and proposing a
reorganization and consolidation of the corrections organizational structure. However, these
changes were largely symbolic and cosmetic—meaningful reductions in the prison population
and recidivism will require more far-reaching and systemic reforms. This cannot occur without a
willingness of the governor and legislature to challenge the CCPOA’s political dominance.
The obvious question, then, is whether anything can be done to curb the CCPOA’s
influence on prison reform. The short answer is no. The CCPOA’s political activities are
completely legitimate. Like any other interest group, it is free to raise money, support or oppose
candidates, and help shape the public debate. Consequently, changing the culture in California
prisons or accomplishing sentencing reform will require a partnership between elected officials
and the CCPOA. Based on the current political climate, such a partnership seems elusive.
Perhaps, as Joe Baumann suggested, both sides in this debate should begin by not “talking past
each other,” and recognize their mutual and complimentary roles in achieving reform. Political
leaders must recognize that the CCPOA is here to stay and that its role in promoting good
working conditions for its members is legitimate and necessary. California prison guards do work
a tough beat and should be paid accordingly. Bad working conditions and low pay certainly won’t
improve morale or reduce tensions in state prisons. For example, in Texas, where unions are
substantially weaker while the prison population is second only to California, guards are required
to accrue 240 hours of overtime before they can draw overtime pay; additionally, their average
salary is $23,500 per year—significantly lower than their California counterparts.83 The result has
been a turnover rate of 32%, overworked guards, and 2700 unfilled positions.84 For prisons to
fulfill their mission, then, guards must be well-trained and well-compensated—priorities that are
central to the CCPOA’s advocacy role. The CCPOA, however, must make concessions as well—
allowing policymakers more latitude to pursue sentencing reforms and rehabilitation initiatives
without fear of political reprisal.
Unfortunately, however, the CCPOA has not shown itself to be a willing partner in such
efforts. Thus, the only way to counter CCPOA power is through leadership: the governor and
legislature must exhibit more courage in challenging the union’s stranglehold on prison policy.
With a few notable exceptions—Gloria Romero and Jackie Spier—such leadership has not been
forthcoming. Recent pronouncements by the governor have also been discouraging: chastened by
last year’s special election, he has seemingly abandoned the progressive vision that marked his
early term. In his 2006 State of the State address delivered just two weeks ago, the governor
anchored the state’s corrections future in business as usual: more new spending, more new
prisons:

82

Correction Independent Review Panel executive summary available at
http://cpr.ca.gov/report/indrpt/corr/execsumm.htm
83
(January 15, 2006). Prison Workers’ Overtime Held Back. Austin American Statesman.
84
Id.

15
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

Local jails and state prisons are so overcrowded that criminals are being let out or left on the
street because we have no room to lock them up. Our proposal provides for two new prisons, a
new crime lab, emergency response facilities and space for 83,000 new prisoners over the next
ten years. We must keep the people safe. I say build it.85
And so the cycle continues.

85

Governor Schwarzenegger’s State of the State Address. Retrieved from www.governor.ca.gov

16
Launch Internet Explorer Browser.lnk

California Sentencing & Corrections Policy Series Stanford Criminal Justice Center Working
Papers. Distributed for Review and Comment only. Do not cite without author's permission.

 

 

Prisoner Education Guide side
CLN Subscribe Now Ad
Prisoner Education Guide side