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Monday, March 31, 2008


California Prison Guards

Unless drastic measures are taken, California will soon be spending more tax dollars on its state prison system than its public universities. Schwarzenegger’s 2007-2008 state budget even shells out more than our federal prison system - $3.3 billion more – even though federal prisons house almost 30,000 more prisoners.

The wealth of knowledge I gained while reading Mancur Olson lead me to believe that there was something more to this excessive expenditure of taxpayer dollars, so I decided to do a little research. Of course, I didn’t have to look far, for the second article that popped up on my google search was labeled “The California Prison Guards’ Union: A Potent Political Interest Group”. http://thirdworldtraveler.com/Prison_System/CalifPrisonGuards.html

Author Dan Pens eloquently states that there is “a well fed Political Interest Group feasting at the California public trough, and most taxpayers are unaware of the huge growth in this creature’s appetite and political clout.” The California Correctional Peace Officer’s Association’s (CCPOA) sudden rise to power began in the year 1980 with the installation of Don Novey as the CCPOA president. The ambitious Novey exhibited true genius in the arena of political lobbying, increasing prison guards’ salaries from $14,400 a year in 1980 to $44,000 a year in 1996 – an amount that totaled well over $50,000 a year with benefits. That amount was $10,000 more than the average teacher’s salary in 1996, quite a large sum when one considers that the position of prison guard requires only a high school diploma while a teaching position demands at least a four year college degree.

Novey found it all too easy to exert tremendous influence over California’s politicians, for as one would expect “there are no vested interests against spending more on prisons.” Everyone wants “to keep thugs off the streets and in jail where they belong” and no politician wants to be known as the man who was soft on crime, so the state prison budget steadily grew as the CCPOA’s influence increased.

Obviously the extra funds committed to the prisons must come from somewhere, so it should come as no surprise that the California prison budget has grown at the expense of other public programs, most notably higher education. In 1983-1984, California spent only 3.9 percent of its budget on its correctional systems and 10 percent on its public universities. The meteoric rise to power of the CCPOA will produce correctional system spending levels that are set to pass higher education expenditures in less than 5 years. Don Novey must be very proud.

The expansion of prison funding has also resulted in a tax increase. This tax increase has prompted a massive exodus of corporations and as these corporations flee they take with them thousands of jobs, leaving fewer taxpayers to shoulder the added tax burden.

Dan Pens concludes his article by speculating that “only after the state drives itself into an abyss that a radical revolutionary shift can take place.” Sadly, I believe he may be right.

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