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December 16, 2004 - The Santa Maria Times (CA)

Prison Guards In Spotlight

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Finally, it appears that a federal judge is doing something recent governors and the Legislature have been unable to do -- rein in the prison guards union.

The judge last month ordered an investigation into whether the union's contract with the state gives guards too much control over prison operations.

More specifically, the judge ordered the removal of union representatives from a use-of-force review committee at Pelican Bay State Prison.

State officials, including those responsible for managing California's sprawling and growing prison system, have argued for years that the guards union has grown in strength, to the point that it is a shadow government overseeing functions of the Department of Corrections.

The incident that sparked the federal judge's order for an investigation occurred last year, when the department's former director dropped an internal investigation of guard misconduct to appease the union.

Lawmakers have been stymied in recent years trying to pass prison reform legislation -- in large part due to the influence of the guards union and its continuing contributions to the campaigns of key legislators.

The union has even turned on one of its own, newly appointed Director Rod Hickman, who was named to the post last year after spending 20 years as a guard and manager -- and a member of the union that now disparages his efforts at prison reform.

It's time order was restored to the Department of Corrections. Perhaps the investigation of union abuses will speed that along.

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