Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Judge Henderson Threatens State’s Prisons With Receivership
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A federal judge threatened to put the state’s prison system into receivership after warning that a prison guard contract renegotiated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger harms reform efforts in the nation’s largest state correctional system.
The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which already has a pattern of tampering with investigations and supporting lax employee discipline, would gain more management control under the deal, Senior U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson of the Northern District of California wrote in a letter received yesterday by Schwarzenegger.
Despite numerous warnings that the union already has too much power, Schwarzenegger’s proposed pact would worsen problems by giving more favors to guards in return for postponing pay increases, the judge said.
Henderson asked to meet with Schwarzenegger to discuss the failure to heed a special master’s findings that “bad investigations, a code of silence and the failure to discipline correctional officers has been condoned for many years by the highest level of California officials.”
Secretary of Legal Affairs Peter Siggins, in a response to Henderson made public late yesterday, said he and Youth and Adult Correctional Agency Secretary Roderick Q. Hickman “were both shocked and disappointed” to receive the judge’s letter.
“Throughout my personal participation in these proceedings, and for as long as I have known Secretary Hickman, we have shared a commitment with the Court not only to improve the quality of correctional officer investigations and the discipline process but to hold all employees to the highest ethical standards,” Siggins wrote. “Governor Schwarzenegger also shares in that commitment and has made reform of the correctional officer investigation and discipline process a priority. As I stated in our July 7th meeting, we’d be pleased to arrange a meeting between you and the Governor.”
Reforms Going Forward
Reforms are going forward, Siggins assured the judge. “But as you and I discussed in our meeting on July 7th, the kind of institutional reform we are trying to undertake within CDC will take a long time and steady attention to our shared objective.”
Siggins listed a number of reform measures that have been undertaken “[i]n the short time that Governor Schwarzenegger has been in office.”
Lance Corcoran, the union’s executive vice president, said it was unclear why Henderson concluded the new deal would give greater authority to the union. He also objected to Henderson’s reasoning that the union doesn’t have the prison system’s best interests at heart.
“Unfortunately, the judge has painted us as the cancer within corrections, and that’s patently untrue,” Corcoran said.
The judge has been considering assuming oversight of the prison system as an outgrowth of a trial into alleged abuse of inmates by guards at Pelican Bay prison. He is also considering issuing a contempt of court order against Edward Alameida, who resigned as Corrections Department director last year amid accusations of covering up a prison-abuse perjury probe.
Two key Democratic state senators said they would urge the Legislature to reject the revised contract, which Sen. Jackie Speier of Daly City called a “policy swindle” that mocks reform efforts.
Speier and Sen. Gloria Romero of East Los Angeles, who chair committees reviewing the prison system, said proposed revisions bring no significant savings and grant more perks to the guards.
Schwarzenegger sought $300 million from pay raises that guards won under a heavily criticized contract granted by former Gov. Gray Davis, but his revised version would only save about $108 million over two years.
Romero told the MetNews that while she opposes the revised contract, she sees no benefit to placing the system in under federal supervision.
“I really do think it’s an overblown threat,” she said. “It’s like going after a mosquito with a bazooka.”
The system is moving forward to implement reforms under the leadership of Hickman and Department of Corrections Director Jeanne S. Woodford, Romero said.
The senator did, however, suggest that the governor meet with Henderson. “I think the governor would move us forward by spending time in the judge’s chambers rather than in the shopping malls” where Schwarzenegger has been campaigning for support of his stalled budget proposals, Romero said. She would be interested in meeting with Henderson as well, she added.
In his letter to the governor, Henderson said he had been prepared to let Special Master John Hagar work with the new leaders of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency and the Department of Corrections to fix “systemic problems.”
However, if the state is unwilling to fix the problems, “I must consider the appointment of a receiver over the CDC to bring California’s correctional system into full compliance with the court’s orders,” Henderson wrote.
Meanwhile, YACA spokesman J.P. Tremblay said about a half-dozen significant reforms should result from a retreat last week by about 150 corrections managers. But he said the proposals are still under review.
The retreat was to plot the future for the state’s prison system at the end of a two-decade building spree, and to consider 239 recommendations proposed by a Schwarzenegger-appointed reform panel.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company