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The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) has long been seen as the primary villain responsible for the disastrous state of the California prison system. During the late 1980s and 1990s while under the leadership of Don Novey, the CCPOA argued, advocated, and spent enormous amount of its resources to intimidate lawmakers to support harsher sentencing laws and prison expansion. The calculation, of course, was that an ever expanding prison system would translate into an ever increasing union membership. As membership grew the union would enjoy an inexorable growth in its political power. Unfortunately, this strategy was fatally flawed, because it failed to take into account the state’s finite resources and the unwillingness of the electorate to finance unlimited prison expansion. The result was the creation of a monster that far exceeded anything Dr. Frankenstein could have conceived. Because of the sentencing laws that Novey vigorously promoted during his tenure, the California prison system now verges on the brink of collapse with conditions nearly unbearable for staff and inmates. Many fear that the present prison conditions make some form of calamity inevitable. Novey’s legacy sowed the seeds for the current crisis and the inability of the state’s political system to craft responsible policy.

Under the new leadership of Mike Jimenez, the CCPOA appears to be taking the responsible steps necessary to avert disaster and help restore the state prison system to some semblance of order and responsible management. The CCPOA’s recent support for sentencing reform is indicative of a new era of responsible union leadership that not only promotes the interests of its members but also serves the best interests of the public. A prison system operating at nearly 200% of capacity creates dangerous working conditions that compromise the safety of everyone. While the union has succeeded in achieving good wages and job stability, it has come at the expense of working conditions. Clearly the challenge of the future for the CCPOA is to take a leadership role in repairing the damage of its past policies and creating a better working environment for both staff and inmates.