Governor James Devlin
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James Devlin is the governor of an unspecified U.S. state in Oz's fictional universe. After campaigning on a law and order platform that includes "no perks for prisoners", Devlin enacts legislation designed to emphasize punishment in the state's correctional system. Devlin's draconian measures make him a figure hated by Oz's inmate population, and by several staff members.
Throughout the series, Devlin finds himself in legal controversies stemming from his political corruption. His situation reaches a head when Wilson Loewen, a mayor who helped him get elected, is incarcerated in Oz after being convicted of murder. Loewen begins to divulge Devlin's secrets to Oz's staff, implicating the governor in crimes that could send him to prison.
Devlin is frequently shown as opportunistic and morally dubious, using strict legislation to deflect attention from his illicit activities. Despite his political image, Devlin is shown as a sadistic elitist only out for himself, an image he doesn't bother to hide in private. He knows that the public views him as such but will vote for him because he gets the results they want.
James Devlin is elected governor of an unspecified U.S. state, making the slogan "No Perks for Prisoners" a cornerstone of his campaign. Once in office, Devlin enacts legislation emphasizing punishment in his state's correctional system, reflecting his philosophy that this will eventually reduce crime. Throughout the season, Devlin prohibits several basic freedoms, such as smoking and conjugal visits, from inmates statewide; as a result, tension builds within the prison walls. Devlin also reinstates the death penalty, which had been abolished in the state for thirty years.
Kareem Saïd, an inmate at the Oswald State Correctional Facility, and Tim McManus, the manager of the prison's "Emerald City" unit, openly oppose Devlin. However, the governor's edicts are enforced by both the Commissioner of Prisons and Warden Leo Glynn. At the end of the season, Saïd decides to protest Devlin's measures by leading Oz's inmates in a prison riot, issuing a list of demands and holding several guards hostage. While Glynn and McManus feel that several of the demands are reasonable, Devlin orders a SWAT team to recapture Emerald City by any means necessary. During the ensuing violence, two guards and six inmates are killed while Emerald City is left a ruin.
To deflect bad press, Devlin appoints law school dean Alvah Case to make an impartial investigation of the causes and effects of the riot. He offers to appoint Case as state attorney general if he finds and prosecutes the guilty parties. However, Case eventually concludes that no one in particular was at fault and suggests that Devlin is just as culpable as the inmates. When Devlin furiously rescinds his appointment offer, Case threatens to run against him in the next election. Left with no other option, Devlin announces Case's findings at a press conference.
McManus reopens Emerald City and begins a mandatory GED program for inmates who have not finished high school. Devlin decides that the state should end funding for prison educational programs, however, and decides to announce his plan after Oz's graduation ceremony. However, McManus undermines Devlin's stunt by announcing the completion of the GED program earlier than the governor anticipated. Off camera, Devlin tells McManus that this ploy will ultimately make no difference as to what the state's voters will think about his actions.
After an Oz inmate named Jiggy Walker accuses Devlin of purchasing crack cocaine from him, the governor holds a press conference discrediting Walker and proving his innocence. However, Glynn wonders if Devlin bribed Walker as a means of setting up the press conference. During the month of Ramadan, Devlin decides to pardon a Muslim inmate as a means of increasing his popularity in both the state's Muslim and African-American communities. He pardons Saïd, who then humiliates him by refusing the pardon and accusing him of instigating the riot.
Throughout this season, Devlin deals with issues involving Dr. Gloria Nathan, the chief attending physician in Oz. Nathan opposes a bid by the Weigart Corporation to privatize Oz's health care system, and objects when Weigart head Frederick Garvey orders that inmate Miguel Alvarez be taken off of anti-depressants as a way of reducing the costs of medical care. Alvarez is later found trying to hang himself within solitary confinement. Garvey fires Nathan — only to be fired himself when Devlin ends Weigart's contract. Devlin blackmails Garvey into re-hiring Nathan, in a ploy to make himself look compassionate to voters.
Season 4 Part I
Devlin fights for re-election against challenger Alvah Case. Because of racial issues affecting the campaign, Devlin's staff asks Glynn to run as Devlin's lieutenant governor. Glynn accepts, even though he realizes that he would be serving as a token minority in an otherwise all-white campaign. Devlin's office quickly pressures Glynn to fire McManus, who has begun to behave erratically since a gun-smuggling incident led to the deaths of several inmates and staff members in Oz.
When Alvarez and Agamemnon Busmalis break out of Oz, Devlin's office suggests that while their escape is initially appealing to the public, they will want them captured and returned promptly. After Busmalis is captured, Glynn is told that the public's faith in the prison system has increased. As the execution of female inmate Shirley Bellinger approaches, Glynn is told that the inevitable public backlash would be best balanced by recovering Alvarez. Elsewhere, Devlin suggests that Glynn divulge personal details pertaining to crime within his family in order to appear familiar to voters. At a subsequent press conference, Glynn reveals his brother's life sentence for murder and his daughter's rape.
To further improve his image, Glynn hires Martin Querns as McManus' replacement as the unit manager at Emerald City. Querns seems to reduce violent incidents among the inmates, but his methods of discipline are not yet known to everyone outside of his cell block. Throughout Devlin's campaign, Clayton Hughes, a former corrections officer at Oz, makes numerous speeches condemning Devlin as representing all that is evil within white society. At a press conference, Hughes attempts to assassinate Devlin, temporarily crippling him. Glynn is forced to drop out of the race, while Devlin wins re-election.
Season 4 Part II
Devlin is reinaugurated as governor but not before allowing a television crew to investigate happenings at Oz. The TV crew does not air their footage, and Devlin is then seen at Oz's annual warden's conference on crutches. While there, he mockingly tells Glynn to thank Clayton Hughes for helping him win the election.
Devlin encounters controversy in the death sentence of William Giles who wishes to be stoned to death. After Sister Pete makes an unsuccessful attempt to change the form of capital punishment, other psychiatrists deem Giles as insane, and his death sentence is overturned.
Devlin appoints Eleanor O'Connor, McManus' ex-wife, as a state liaison to address political concerns from Oz's staff. Devlin reaffirms his support for the death penalty during the sentencing of Oz inmate Cyril O'Reily for the murder of another prisoner, Li Chen. As O'Reily has a low IQ, his execution causes several liberal groups to call for an appeal against his sentence. Devlin's public image then diminishes, although efforts to stop O'Reily's execution fail.
Race riots erupt statewide after Wilson Loewen, a powerful mayor who aided Devlin's election, is tried for his involvement in a 1963 murder of two African American girls by the Ku Klux Klan. Devlin makes the situation worse when, off the record, he claims that he will pardon Loewen. After Loewen is convicted, Devlin is forced to publicly state he will not pardon him due to the unrest; Devlin sends him to Oz as a means of placating the black community. However, Devlin tells Glynn that he will pardon Loewen after the public uproar dies out, and orders the warden to protect Loewen while he is incarcerated.
Loewen is housed in Unit J, which is reserved for corrupt police officers and currently houses white inmates Tobias Beecher and Alvin Yood. Loewen blackmails Devlin for an immediate pardon, threatening to reveal his onetime ally's crimes. Devlin has his African-American assistant, Perry Loftus, use staff member Adrian Johnson to discreetly order Loewen's murder. Johnson pays inmates Willy Brandt and Lionel Kelsch to set up the murder in Oz's hospital ward. Meanwhile, Devlin suggests that Cyril O'Reily undergo ECT treatment despite the protests of O'Reily's family and attorneys.
As Glynn and a Detective McGorry investigate Loewen's murder, they discover Johnson's involvement. When Devlin and Loftus are informed of what's happening, the governor has McGorry replaced by another detective as a means of drawing suspicion away from himself. Glynn ultimately learns the truth, causing Devlin and Loftus to order Johnson to arrange for Glynn's death. Johnson pays Kelsch to kill Glynn, whose death angers Oz's staff members. After McManus ties the governor's office to the murders of Loewen and Glynn, Devlin orders Querns to fire him.
When Oz is evacuated during an anthrax attack, Devlin realizes that McManus is on the verge of ending his political career. During the final episode, several clues indicate that Devlin remains in office. However, McManus is still shown in his position, making the ultimate outcome inconclusive.