The mission of the CCPOA is “to promote and enhance the correctional profession and to protect the welfare of those engaged in corrections.”
The CCPOA has 31,000 members, each of whom pay $59.42 per month to the union. Union dues total $21.9 million per year.
The CCPOA began in 1957 as the California Correctional Officers Association (CCOA). Prior to the 1980s, the group was relatively weak politically, with membership divided between the California State Employees Association and the CCOA. However, in the 1980s, president Don Novey led a successful effort to combine California Youth Authority supervisors and parole officers with prison guards, launching the CCPOA's rise to prominence. With aggressive recruitment and lobbying strategies, the CCPOA's membership and its political influence increased substantially, bringing the union to a position of great influence in California politics, eventually becoming one of the most powerful unions in the state.
By 1992, the CCPOA had become California's second largest political action committee (PAC), contributing over a million dollars to legislative candidates. The CCPOA contributed over a million dollars to Pete Wilson's successful gubernatorial campaign that year, the largest independent campaign contribution on behalf of a candidate in California history. The CCPOA subsequently contributed over $2 million to Gray Davis's successful campaign for governorship in 1998.
Although its membership is relatively small, representing only about one tenth the membership of the California Teachers Association, CCPOA political activity routinely exceeds that of all other labor unions in California. The union spends heavily on influencing political campaigns, and on lobbying legislators and other government officials. CCPOA also hires public relations firms and political polling firms.
According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, CCPOA contributed over $9.6 million to political campaigns between 1997–2001, making it among the largest contributors to political campaigns in California. Thirty-five percent of the CCPOA’s $21.9 million annual union dues is devoted to funding the union’s political activities, including public relations; lobbying; funding affiliate groups; contributing ‘soft money’ to political parties, political events, and debates; and giving direct contributions to political candidates.
The CCPOA has funded campaigns to increase criminal sentences, including the 1994 campaign for Proposition 184, the "Three Strikes" ballot initiative, to which the CCPOA contributed over $100,000. California’s Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau (the driving force behind the State’s three strikes law) gets 78% of its funding, along with free office space and lobbying staff, from the CCPOA. The CCPOA also provides 95% of the funding for Crime Victims United , another Political Action Committee pressing for tougher laws and longer sentences.
As calls for reform of the state's prison system escalated during 2006, putting pressure on current governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to take a more aggressive stance on reform, the union's seemingly friendly relationship with the governor has cooled.
Prison industrial complex
Numerous critics of the CCPOA assert that the union has a vested interest in incarcerating more Californians and contributing to the growth of the prison-industrial complex. Critics also claim that the CCPOA has been an impediment to constructive debate and openness about the state of California prisons.
The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice has described the CCPOA’s “cycle of political influence” in the following way:
- Politicians elected with the support of CCPOA in turn support its “tough on crime” political agenda.
- Tough on crime legislation fuels the expansion of the correctional system.
- The expansion of the correctional system increases the CCPOA membership.
Cases of abuse
In 1995, in a landmark civil rights case (Madrid v. Gomez), U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that poor medical care and a pattern of brutality by prison guards at Pelican Bay State Prison violated the civil rights of inmates.
In 2004, a federal court investigator accused CCPOA of undermining investigations into allegations of guard abuse, when Corcoran prisoner Ronald Herrera bled to death over the course of ten hours during which he was ....
The CCPOA has been accused by numerous people, including U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson and former Senator Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), of maintaining an unwritten “code of silence” in the face of any external investigation into potential abuses committed by its members.
- "Political Power of the CCPOA". Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Retrieved 2007-08-11.
- "The CCPOA and California State Politics" (PDF). Prison Activist Resource Center. Retrieved 2007-08-11.
- Martin, Mark (2004-07-21). "Judge condemns deal with prison guards". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-08-11. Check date values in:
- Treaster, Joseph B. (1995-01-13). "Judge Finds Inmate Abuse at Top-Security Prison in California". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-11. Check date values in:
- Arax, Mark (2004-02-05). "California Prisoner's Gruesome Death Probed: Investigators Want to Know if Guards, Who Were Watching the Super Bowl, Were Negligent". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-08-11. Check date values in:
- Arax, Mark (2004-03-05). "Corcoran Guards Mute in Probe of Inmate Death". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-08-11. Check date values in:
- Arax, Mark (2004-01-20). "Guard Challenges Code of Silence". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-08-11. Check date values in:
- Allen-Taylor, J. Douglas (2004-07-27). "Berkeley Judge Shakes Up Prison Guards, Governor". Berkeley Daily Planet. Retrieved 2007-08-11. Check date values in:
- CCPOAnet.org - 'California Correctional Peace Officers Association: Representing the Men and Women Who Walk "the Toughest beat in the State"' (official website)
- CJCJ.org - 'Political Power of the CCPOA: The Cycle of CCPOA Influence', Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice
- Prison Activist Resource Center (PARC) website