July 29, 2020
New Submittal - Why is the CDCR So Resistant to Reform?
The State of California is well-known as a haven for progressive politics and causes. The entire state government is of the Democratic party. The Federal Senators and most congresspersons are Democrats. The Federal 9th Circuit Appeals Court, considered by many to be the most liberal of all the appeals courts, is headquartered in California. The population of voters concentrated in the larger cities is mostly of the progressive Democratic Party. There are countless advocacy groups in California, working endlessly for immigrant rights, prisoner rights, lgbq rights etc. All these issues and entities are constantly in the forefront of public attention
Yet, California prisons are persistently overcrowded, despite a powerful 3 Judge Federal panel overseeing the issue. Prisoner and prison advocates are relentlessly active in petitioning for reforms of all sorts. African American prisoners in liberal California are subject to the same institutional injustices and biases in criminal justice and incarceration as are their brethren in Red States.
Why is it that in the time of the COVID19 pandemic, the 3 Judge Federal Panel has called CDCR executives to task in public hearings, chastising the CDCR for careless indifference to human life and well-being - only to fail to achieve any meaningful reform? Why does a liberal governor such as Gavin Newsome suppress his progressive instincts relentlessly when making decisions where he could force badly needed, well-known reforms in CDCR operations? Why is the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation itself largely immune to rehabilitation and reform?
Ask any California prisoner and they will probably tell you to simply follow the money. It is very common for California state prison guards to bring home compensation of over $100,000 per year. The officers are not bashful about telling prisoners this. Some may well over $100,000 with overtime pay.
Look around the presence of all the equipment - new trucks, buses, vans, etc. When preparing for a transition to "non-designated program states" at our facility it was expected to see fights and even riots emerge. Brand new boxes of gas masks were issued to personnel. New riot control equipment was distributed in full view of the prisoner population. No expense was spared even thought most of that expensive new equipment was never used or needed.
At CMC West, 3 new buildings were under construction, built by prisoner labor at slave wages supervised by union-organized free staff one brand new central kitchen and two brand new chow halls were well under way, slowly arising from the bare ground over many months. Then, suddenly - all work stopped, all new structures boarded up and all inmate laborers laid off because all the jobs were over their generous budgets. After months of no construction activity, the work is scheduled to resume soon, once again at exorbitant expense despite slave labor because of insanely poor money management by CDCR. p.2
How can CDCR get away year after year with almost unfathomable waste of taxpayer money and failure to implement the will of California voters in enacting meaningful reform? Why do CDCR executives get away with failure to obey supervisory judicial orders?
The CDCR is a money making machine with enormous political power. The prison guards union can literally intimidate public officials who dare hold them to meaningful reform. The CDCR is the embodiment of the phrase "Prison Industrial Complex". They are so powerful that they are able to write their own regulations to enact laws written by the state legislature. Time after time the CDCR deliberately thwarts the express will of California voters and the most powerful state politicians yield to the will of CDCR. Governors come and go - the CDCR does what it wants. Jerry Brown and now Gavin Newsome play with minor reforms but never fulfill their potential because they value their careers and power.
Most of the general public in California trusts the state institutions to do what is right. Voters vote liberal reforms, but the powerful CDCR makes sure that the will of the voters in suppressed. Activists lobby, lawyers sue in the courts, but the results continue to favor the PIC. It is an enormous problem with no meaningful solution in view. Only a financial collapse of the entire state government can affect this. But if this happens, California prisoners will suffer even more.
If you are working on an APWA-related project, please let us know how you plan to utilize the Archive. We hope to share information about your work with our readers and, whenever possible, with relevant APWA authors.
APWA is an open access archive. We encourage use of the writings for research, course planning, and projects engaged in examination of the criminal legal system. Reproduction of essays in their entirety infringes on author copyright without their explicit consent from the writers. Please contact us if you plan to reproduce entire essays; we will do our best to put you in contact with the authors for consent, and their compensation for any project that is profit making.