The California prison system, exceeded in size by only the federal system, is "dysfunctional" and plagued by abuses, according to a report commissioned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and authored by former Gov. George Deukmejian (R). As governor from 1983 to 1991, Deukmejian oversaw much of the expansion that has turned the California Department of Corrections into a $6 billion a year, 32-prison gulag holding 163,000 prisoners at last count.
Despite the passage of the "treatment not jail" Proposition 36 initiative in 2002, more than 33,000 drug offenders continue to fill prison cells -- 21% of all California inmates. Among those tens of thousands of victims of prohibition are some 1,250 doing time for marijuana crime. Additionally, more than a full third of California's 114,000 parolees are drug offenders.
And they, like all the other inhabitants of the walled world of the California prison system, have suffered from a system that has "too much political interference, too much union control and too little management courage, accountability and transparency," as the authors of the 350-page report, "Reforming Corrections," gently put it.
What the commission was obliquely referring to was an avalanche of scandals including sadistic treatment of prisoners at the notorious Pelican Bay "supermax" prison, the staging of fights between inmates by guards, guards putting known prison rapists into cells with prisoners who had somehow offended them, and on and on in a cavalcade of ugliness foreshadowing the international scandal surrounding prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. And the guards typically walked, as their comrades in the politically powerful state prison guard union closed ranks around them as administrators quailed.
The commission has a whole raft of recommendations, starting with a call for the dismantling of the California Youth and Adult Correctional Agency and its replacement by a new Department of Corrections headed by a 10-member appointed commission. The commission would hold public meetings every two months and open up prison operations to public scrutiny, a marked contrast from current practice. "Management in corrections has been deficient and dysfunctional," said Deukmejian, who made a political career as a "tough on crime" conservative. "It's extremely important that we have an independent commission to lead the way and monitor what's going on."
Gov. Schwarzenegger has already rejected this central recommendation, the Los Angeles Times reported. A Scharzenegger spokeswoman told the Times giving oversight to a civilian commission "would reduce accountability for the governor and grant it to a politically appointed board."
The report contains another 238 recommendations ranging from toughening standards for guards to returning to the notion, derided by tough guys in recent decades, of rehabilitation. In order to cut the state's recidividism rate -- more than half the state's parolees return to prison -- the report recommended, the state needs to spend resources for more education, drug treatment and job-training programs. It could also cut the time spent on parole.
And the Correctional Peace Officers Association -- the prison guards' union -- must be reined in, the report said. Management passive in the face of an aggressive union "has resulted in an unfair and unworkable tilt toward union influence" in how prisons are run, the panel said. It also criticized institutional rules, such as the one that requires managers to give prison guards details of any allegations against them before they meet with investigators. "This practice encourages 'the code of silence' afflicting the state correctional system and could contribute to retaliation against 'whistleblowers,'" the report said.
The report, "Reforming Corrections," is available online at http://www.report.cpr.ca.gov/irp/.