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Guard Tower Scam

In the January PLN, Paul Wright described the ordeal of the guards' union in Washington state successfully fighting the DOC's effort to reduce staffing of the guard towers in Washington's prisons. While it's clear that the public-employee unions representing turnkeys fight tooth-and-nail to keep positions from being cut, regardless of the circumstances, there is another, more sinister, level to this game. Prison officials use the guard-tower-staffing hoax to manipulate the public into supporting ever-larger budgets for prison agencies.

The current annual budget for the DOC here in Wisconsin is a half a billion dollars. A budget increasing at that rate is the prisoncrats' dream; it expands their power and relative importance in state government.

DOC administrators would like to see their budgets continue to expand, but they face an obstacle. Money for the DOC has come at the expense of other state agencies. Some people in state government, particularly key Democrats in the WI legislature, question the wisdom of reducing funding for higher education and social services in order to operate more and more prisons.

Every time someone in the legislature or another state agency takes a prominent stand against the ballooning DOC budget, prison officials fall back on their guard-tower strategy. Citing a consultant's findings that several of the state's prisons could safely shut down some of their towers and eliminate guard positions, the DOC announces plans to do just that. The turnkey union then flies into a histrionic fit, holding press conferences and staging demonstrations claiming that psychotic killers and rabid maniacs will walk away from the prisons at will if the towers are destaffed. The public becomes frightened out of its wits and demands to know how the DOC could even consider laying off tower guards. Facing such public outcry, the forces advocating moderation of runaway growth in DOC budgets see no alternative to backing down. The prisoncrats get their money, and the turnkeys keep their sinecures.

A.L., Wisconsin

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