“The growth of California’s incarceration system, and the decline of its quality, tracks the accession to power of the state’s prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association,” writes Tim Kowal in one of the best analyses of the union. “The CCPOA has played a significant role in advocating pro-incarceration policies and opposing pro-rehabilitative policies in California.”
Kowal’s history makes it clear that the union’s role has been to protect and serve the interest of the union. In 1990, the CCPOA spent over $80,000 against state Sen. John Vasconcellos because the Santa Clara Democrat had led opposition to a prison-building bond. In 1994, the union supported the Three Strikes law. The union gave Pete Wilson $1.5 million. Wilson subsequently vetoed pay raises for most state workers, but not CCPOA. In 1998, the union gave $2.1 million to Gray Davis’s gubernatorial campaign – and $3 million more to Davis during his time in office. When lawmakers proposed an experiment in alternative sentencing, the union opposed that too – and Davis vetoed it. Substance abuse treatment, halfway houses, home detention: the union opposes anything that might reduce the prison population or provide rehabilitation. New prison construction, additional guard positions, mandatory sentencing, higher pay: the union has backed anything that increases the power of the union.
And a word about their income: over 1200 corrections employees earn over $100,000 per year in retirement, a survey of government data shows. To earn that sort of income, you’d have to invest more than $3 million at 3%. These men and women are rightly called millionaires.
Read Kowal’s piece yourself for more detail. It’s a catalogue of the myriad ways in which the CCPOA has deployed what the president called “the awesome power of the state” on behalf of the narrow interests of its wealthy members. Just think: For $45,000, the price of sending one kid to an Ivy League college for a year, we can instead send a Californian to prison for a year – all that expense and no rehabilitation, plus wrecked families, gutted neighborhoods, a Soviet-style post-prison surveillance system, and a government union that has leashed in Republican and Democrat lawmakers and governors alike.
We’re left wondering whether the president – an undeniably bright man – has just huge gaps in his curiosity about economics, or, more darkly, has pledged his to support anything that calls itself a union.
Will Swaim is acting president of the California Policy Center.