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.
According to UCLA economist Lee E. Ohanian in a illuminating paper for The American, “America’s Public Sector Union Dilemma,” California’s corrections officers have exploited their monopoly labor power to push policies that will expand the prison population and, as a result, the demand for guards who just happen to be the best-paid corrections officers in the country. That’s why, contrary to what the Marxist sages would expect, they’ve successfully kept privately run prisons out of the state.
Meanwhile, incarceration costs in the essentially bankrupt state are exploding. California spends $44,000 per inmate, compared with the national average of $28,000. A state prison nurse exploited overtime rules to earn $269,810 in one year.
Also contrary to left-wing expectations, these policies have been implemented not so much by the hard-hearted captains of industry and their Republican lackeys, but by a Democrat-controlled state legislature lubricated with donations from a powerful public-sector union.
The system is now up for much-needed reform thanks to a court order mandating that California fix the prison mess. Gov. Jerry Brown, whose 2010 gubernatorial campaign received more than $2 million from CCPOA, has been forced to figure something out.
Still, I suppose I owe the folks in the clown car at least a small apology. They’re still nuts, but they’re right about the existence of a prison-industrial complex. They were just looking in the wrong direction.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can reach him by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO. ©2011, Tribune Media Services, Inc.