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California Governor Cozies up to Prison Guards and Crime Victim Advocates

In April 2011, in apparent repayment of a political debt for helping him get elected, California Governor Jerry Brown approved a 200-page labor contract that gives the 31,000-strong California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) a number of benefits that, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, will create a “huge liability” for the state’s taxpayers.

While Brown’s relationship with the CCPOA is not surprising, his new found coziness with Harriet Salarno, the head of Crime Victims United (CVU), a leading advocacy group for crime victims, is a bit harder to pin down. In February 2011, at Salarno’s urging, Brown hosted a fundraiser for CVU in Sacramento.

Historically, Salarno and Brown have not always seen eye to eye. In 1986, Salarno, whose oldest daughter was murdered in 1979 during Brown’s first tenure as governor of California, played an instrumental role in the recall of three of Brown’s Supreme Court appointees, most notably then-Chief Justice Rose Bird. Under Bird’s leadership the California Supreme Court had overturned virtually every death sentence it considered, which earned the disdain of crime victims’ advocates. By 2006, Salarno actively opposed Brown in his successful campaign for State Attorney General.

Only five years later, though, Brown and Salarno have seemingly come to an understanding. “With age,” Salarno said, “comes wisdom.” Brown, she noted, “has been very cooperative and sent a message to me that his door would be open.”

Brown’s cooperation with Salarno stems at least in part from the fact that the politically influential CCPOA helped to create and still funds CVU – the nonprofit organization that Salarno heads. But the CCPOA, which spent $1.8 million to help put Brown in the governor’s office, has received much more than just “cooperation” in return for its political largess.

For example, under the terms of the CCPOA’s new labor contract, prison guards will be able to save an unlimited number of vacation days (as opposed to the former limit of 80 days) and exchange accrued days off for cash upon their retirement. Since the average CCPOA member has already accumulated nearly 19 weeks of leave time, that “perk” alone will cost California taxpayers over $600 million.

The new contract also gives guards 18 more days off over the next two years; thus, the average prison guard will receive more than eight weeks of time off in the first year of the contract alone. Plus the state agreed to end three-day-a-week furloughs for prison workers, which had been imposed by former Governor Schwarzenegger due to California’s extreme budget deficit (though prison staff will have to take one unpaid day off each month for a year).

Additionally, simply by passing an annual physical exam, veteran prison workers will be eligible to receive an extra $130 per month. With a 4% raise starting in 2013, moreover, the base pay for a veteran prison guard will climb to $76,680 a year.

The state’s generous contract with the CCPOA, after the union sunk $1.8 million into Governor Brown’s election campaign, smacks of political payback – if not a political payoff. Which is the essence of the American political system.

Sources:, Los Angeles Times

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