Thursday, May 5, 2011

Prison Guards and Legal Reform

Lots of interesting posts lately about the CCPOA, its compensation, and its complicity in the crisis. Today's post from Joshua Page addresses an important distinction between the legitimate and illegitimate aims of the union. Following Sara Mayeux's point from yesterday (the system is broken and the CCPOA involvement is the outcome of that), he argues:

In a perfect world, taxpayers wouldn’t need to offer carrots to a public employee union to reform a state’s criminal justice system. But California politics, to put it mildly, is not quite a perfect world, and unless campaign financing and plenty of other structural matters are radically altered, the governor must get the CCPOA’s buy-in to downsize prisons.

Brown’s realignment proposal is projected to reduce the state prison population by upwards of 40,000. Although it would alleviate overcrowding and satisfy the federal courts, it would not necessarily shrink the overall correctional population (instead it would simply shift state prisoners to the counties). Truly shrinking the system still requires sentencing reform. Neither Brown nor the legislature has shown any willingness to shorten prison sentences or increase alternatives to imprisonment, but if they do take up serious sentencing reform, they will again have to deal with the CCPOA and its allies. By addressing union members’ fears, policymakers can soften their resistance. And while a smaller prison system will eventually lead to fewer officers (and union members), it will also benefit those who continue to toil on the tiers and on the yards.

Some of those fears are, of course, legitimate. Guards' lives are in peril, their jobs are difficult to do, and given the size of our correctional monster, they provide an indispensable service dealing with a situation that is largely invisible to the public (save, of course, when it touches the public wallet in overt ways.) There is a golden mean between the approaches of Schwarzenegger and Brown in their dealings with CCPOA, and here's hoping it can be found soon.

No comments: