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California DOC Guards Win Injunction to Stop Prisoner Transfers Out-Of-State; Transfers Continue While State Appeals

The Superior Court of Sacramento County has granted a writ of mandate prohibiting the transfer of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) prisoners to out-of-state facilities to alleviate the prison system's chronic overcrowding crisis.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the union that represents state prison guards, had sued in Superior Court challenging Governor Schwarzenegger's declared "state of emergency" as an improper use of power to overcome the normal illegality of such transfers. Prior to the writ's issuance, on February 20, 2007, some 354 "volunteer" prisoners had already been transferred to a Corrections Corporation of America facility in Tennessee.

In a rare case that put the guard union on the same side as prisoner advocates, the CCPOA fought to stem the flow of involuntary transfers to out-of-state lockups. The union argued that their members' safety was at issue, stating that guards could be injured when they had to extract and ship 8,000 angry prisoners for forced transfers. More likely, the union was (correctly) worried that this was a bargaining tactic by Gov.
Schwarzenegger in their contested labor contract negotiations: knuckle under or kiss your jobs goodbye. Out-of-state private prisons charge California less than one-half of in-state prison costs, which are inflated in large part due to the hefty salaries of CCPOA personnel.

On September 12, 2007 the CCPOA rejected the Governor's "last, best and final" contract offer; the state then implemented the contract anyway and asserted management rights over staffing positions and other work-related issues that the union had previously controlled.

Besides having to deal with the CCPOA, Gov. Schwarzenegger was facing additional pressure "anticipated federal-court-ordered population caps to remedy unconstitutional prison overcrowding. California's current prison population of 173,000 is double CDCR's design capacity, and resultant failures in medical care, psychological care and ADA compliance are driving federal judges in three pending lawsuits to cap the population.

This puts the CCPOA in a real bind: On one hand they don't want prison population (and hence prison guard job) reductions, but on the other hand they don't want California to "solve" its prison overcrowding problem by contracting with non-union companies. The CCPOA gained a 37% wage increase in its last five-year contract, and was seeking more raises in the failed contact renewal negotiations (California prison guards already have a $70,000 base salary). At the same time, Gov. Schwarzenegger and elected state legislators are set against early releases for so much as one non-violent prisoner, for fear of a union-financed "Willie Horton"-type smear campaign at the polls.

Against this backdrop, the Superior Court agreed with the union and ruled that the Governor's use of a "state of emergency" declaration to get around the constitutional [Cal.Const., Art. VII] and statutory [Government Code § 19130(b)(10)] prohibition against farming out California state jobs to out-of-state companies was illegal. Noting that the "emergency" was not tied to a shortage of state personnel but rather to the lack of sufficient facilities, the court found for the union and declared Gov. Schwarzenegger's "state of emergency" proclamation unlawful and the contracts with the private prison companies unauthorized, but stayed its order for ten days to permit the state to appeal.

The Third District Court of Appeal at first stayed the transfers. But on May 21, 2007, it issued an interim ruling permitting resumption of out-of-state transfers to help California "avoid a court-ordered release of dangerous felons," a reference to the feared prison population caps that were expected to be imposed by the federal courts as a result of severe overcrowding. The CCPOA's case is still pending on appeal.

CDCR expects to transfer 400 prisoners per month until 8,000 (the maximum allowed under state law) are held in privately-operated CCA lockups in Arizona, Mississippi and Tennessee. Housing these prisoners in out-of-state facilities will cost California taxpayers a combined $115 million per year. According to the CDCR, this will give the state time to build 53,000 new cells under a $7.8 billion prison construction plan approved by the state legislature in April 2007. An estimated 18,000 of the state's 173,000 prisoners are currently sleeping in gym and laundry areas.

Of the initial 354 out-of-state transferees, one died in a Tennessee prison due to a heart attack. Ironically, the CCPOA proclaimed that CDCR would have given him better medical care, notwithstanding that in May 2007, CDCR's federally-appointed healthcare receiver, Robert Sillen, replaced all CCPOA-member Medical Technical Assistants with nurses. As of July 2007, three other California prisoners had died in out-of-state facilities, prompting Sillen to begin an investigation into the deaths.
See: CCPOA v. Schwarzenegger, Sacramento Superior Court, Case No. 06CS01568, Order Granting Petition, February 20, 2007. The ruling is posted on the PLN website.

Other sources: Mercury News,,

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Related legal case

CCPOA v. Schwarzenegger