Guards Imprison Gov. Brown

APRIL 12, 2011


Call me a bleeding heart, but I think prisoners should be treated humanely. In most American prisons, they’re treated like animals — actually, the ASPCA would get anyone who treated animals like that arrested for cruelty.

But given that prisons are run by government, they cost way too much. It costs $44,563 a year to house the average prisoner in California, about the same as an education at an exclusive private college, such as Stanford University. The main cost is exorbitant prison-guard pay, perks and pensions. About one in 10 guards makes more than $100,000 a year.

It’s not surprising that Gov. Jerry Brown himself is imprisoned by the guards union. Reports the Bay Citizen:

But the governor momentarily shelved his doom-and-gloom message Monday when he addressed a rally at the capitol organized by the state’s powerful prison guards’ union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, and Crime Victims United, a victims’ rights group.

“I hope you’ll tell some of your legislators that we’re going to need some money,” Brown said.

“You can’t run a prison … on hot air,” he said. “You’ve got to run it with real money.”

No kidding. But why is it that prison pay, perks and pensions are so invulnerable? We know the reason. The Bay Citizen continues:

The remarks come less than a week after Brown’s administration negotiated a new contract with prison guards, which the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said “would result in significantly lower savings” than had been budgeted.

Under the terms of the deal, prison guards would be required to take one unpaid day off every month — the equivalent to a 5 percent pay cut — and CCPOA members would be required to make additional contributions to their retirement.

That’s a nothing reduction.

How About Drug Decriminalization?

Brown also refuses to even consider creative solutions to prison overcrowding and cost, such as decriminalizing drugs. Tens of thousands inmates are non-violent drug offenders. According to Alternet:

The cost of corrections in California is staggering. Gov. Brown’s proposed Fiscal Year 2011-2012 budget funds the prison system to the tune of $9.19 billion, nearly 7.2% of the entire state budget. And the war on drugs is responsible for a hefty portion of it.

The state prison system holds a whopping 144,000 inmates, including more than 28,000 drug offenders and more than 1,500 marijuana offenders. Of those 28,000 drug offenders, 9,000 are there for simple drug possession at a cost of $450 million a year, or about $4.5 billion over the past decade. That figure doesn’t include the cost of re-incarcerating parole violators who have been returned to prison for administrative violations, such as failing drug tests, so the actual cost of drug law enforcement to the prison system is even higher.

Brown has been trying to shift some of this burden to local governments. But the real solution is to end the criminalization of drugs and turn loose non-violent drug offenders. Those who abuse drugs should be treated by family, friends, churches and voluntary programs — not violent arrest and imprisonment costing billions a year.

Brown campaigned last year as a candidate combining both the innovative spirit of his first governorship 30 years ago and the experience, now, of decades in politics. So far, he has shown himself to be just a burnout beholden to his union campaign contributors.

Too Many Prisoners

America imprisons more people per capita than any country on earth, even communist countries. It has become a police state, with far too many people behind bars. Incredibly, one in 31 Americans is behind bars, on parole or on probation.

Prisons and jails should be only for violent offenders. But unfortunately, America’s two-party system has produced two pro-incarceration parties. Republicans are obsessed with being “tough on crime” — even on victimless crimes such as drug use. And Democrats have become identical to government-employee unions — including police and guards unions.

Up until about two decades ago, some reason and debate prevailed. Republicans, although “tough on crime,” cared about keeping budgets reasonable. And Democrats were concerned about the rights of the accused and inmates, which often put them at odds with police and guards unions.

No more. Barring the occasional budget-conscious Republican or ACLU-Democrat, there is bipartisan consensus to arrest and lock up almost anybody, with constitutional rights to due process severely curtailed and every demand for increased police and guards pay met.

With the system creaking due to overcrowding and busted budgets, now would the the time for reform — if we had a reform-minded governor.

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