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The Justice Policy Institute published its report, Gaming the System, in June 2011, documenting the political strategies employed by the private prison industry to promote national incarceration-driven criminal justice policies. The publication highlighted three approaches to influencing policy, including: 

~ Campaign Contributions~ Lobbying~ Relationships and Associations 

How does it work in California?

I have been writing a series of blogs documenting various lobbying efforts in California; focusing on particular propositions, special interest groups, and lobbyists. Notably, the criminal justice lobbying strategies employed in California by special interest groups are very similar to those discussed in JPI’s publication. 

Campaign Contributions

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) vigorously invests in political candidates through campaign contributions. As JPI noted with the private prison industry, 

Private prison companies have developed a strategic method of political giving and are less interested in political party, values or philosophy than in access to policymakers. According to the Institute on Money in State Politics, private prison companies support incumbents who win elections, regardless of party. Access to power, clearly, is more important than supporting particular political beliefs (JPI, 2011, p.18).

CCPOA also utilizes this strategy, documented by Follow the Money: 77.6% of CCPOA’s campaign contributions from 2003 to 2010 were made to winning candidates. Developing strong relationships with key criminal justice policymakers through funding their campaigns provides CCPOA with leverage to access the legislative policy debates. 


Lobbying is one of the most effective ways to influence specific legislation or the outcome of ballot measures. As JPI points out, By working to shape the debate on penalties, sentencing, and privatization of correctional services, private prison companies can galvanize the support from policymakers…” (JPI, 2011, p.22).

In California, a great marketing campaign can make all the difference, as evidenced by the strategy employed by law enforcement and correctional agencies opposing Proposition 66 (2004). Despite supporters spending over $5 million on the Yes on Prop. 66” campaign, Prop. 66 was defeated by a well-timed advertising blitz by its opponents, including mailers, radio and television appearances, T‑shirts, lawn signs, and door hangers. 

Tough-on-crime interest groups in California utilize a strong multi-media model of lobbying that ensures the promotion of their language and ideology, helping them to frame and influence the dialogue around criminal justice reform. 

Relationships and Associations

Networking is fundamental in politics. JPI states, “…people bring with them the lens of previous affiliations, and a sense of obligation to represent their world view; they may also be subject to pressure from previous professional relations to act in ways that benefit these relations” (JPI, 2011, p.25).

Several criminal justice interest groups in California not only share a similar tough-on-crime agenda and interest in maintaining high incarceration rates, but also utilize the platforms and connections they have with each other and political relationships to bolster their lobbying reach. For example, Crime Victims United of California (CVUC) found its beginnings in Don Novey, former president of the CCPOA, which provides CVUC with seed money, office space, lobbying staff and attorneys to pursue their lobbying efforts. Without that connection, CVUC would have faced significantly more challenges to enter the world of criminal justice lobbying. 

Why is this important?

On both a national and state level, special interest groups influence criminal justice policy towards their various agendas. In California, these agendas are often based in harsh sentencing laws and high incarceration rates, ignoring research on best criminal justice practices. Understanding the mechanisms through which this influence is achieved can demystify the politics behind the policies and allow taxpayers and the legislature to focus on creating a fair and effective justice system that promotes public safety and benefits the community as a whole. 

For more information on this topic please visit CJCJ’s Interest Groups and Criminal Justice Policy web page.