A recent report by California’s Inspector General details a culture of racism, abuse, and silence at one of the state’s maximum security prisons. According to the report, the most vulnerable inmates—primarily those with disabilities and those imprisoned for sex-related crimes—receive the brunt of violence and abuse at the High Desert State Prison in northeastern California, not far from Reno, Nevada. The report also notes that the violence meted out to inmates by correctional officers also occasionally touches fellow corrections officers. The culture of silence that exists among the officers is due to fear of retaliation for reporting misconduct.
As horrible as the abuses are at the prison, equally as horrible is the finding by the Inspector General that “a labor organization opposes oversight to the point of actively discouraging members from coming forward with information that could in any way adversely affect another officer.” That labor organization would be the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA).
Like any “good” union, this one works on behalf of its members’ interests. Unfortunately, those interests are not necessarily in society’s interests. An article written four years ago illuminated this point:
“In a state where more than two-thirds of crime is attributable to recidivism, CCPOA has spent millions of dollars lobbying against rehabilitation programs, favoring instead policies that will grow the inmate population and the ranks of prison-guard unions. In 1999, it successfully killed a pilot program for alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders. In 2005, it helped kill Schwarzenegger’s plan to reduce overcrowding by putting up to 20,000 inmates in a rehabilitation program. It opposes any tinkering with the “three strikes law” that might thin the prison rolls.”
A longer article, also from four years ago, talks about the role of California’s police unions in the prison system here.
The CCPOA has spent a nice sum of money to further its interests. To get an idea of how nice the sum is, check this.
The Inspector General’s report details the culture of insulation that these union members operate under at High Desert State Prison.
“Interviews of staff formerly assigned to HDSP indicated the existence of tight-knit social groups among employees, commonly referred to as “cars” within the correctional community. These groups of employees socialize frequently outside of work and are often comprised both of supervisors and correctional officers who work on the same housing units and during the same shifts. In addition, many of the staff are actually related. Spouses, siblings, and cousins are often employed at one or the other institution, literally creating “family” ties.”
“On one hand, some staff described these groups as mostly innocuous; they would eat lunch together, get each other things from the cafeteria, and barbecue and have drinks together on weekends. Even these former staff members who did not witness any misconduct indicated that supervisors who belonged to these groups would sometimes display favoritism towards the other members of their “car.” One former staff member stated that supervisors would assign members of their “car” to favorable work assignments and working hours, such as administrative posts with weekends off, despite other staff being entitled to the positions by operation of the seniority provisions of the Bargaining Unit 6, Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (the correctional officers’ union contract).”
“On the other hand, some former staff described the negative consequences that could occur if you were not a member of the “car” or if you spoke out or reported misconduct against a member of the “car.” These consequences could include unfavorable job changes, being ostracized and labeled as a “rat,” shunning in the community, retaliatory investigations, verbal badgering and abuse, the threat of not responding to an inmate assault on staff, and even physical assault by a custody supervisor.”
You can study the report that details the abuse and the 45 specific recommendations (yep … 45 of ‘em) for yourself here.