Official assails prison guard panel

Posted on Thu, May. 05, 2005

By DON THOMPSON
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - A commission charged with improving prison guard training suffers from institutional paralysis and has made little progress in seven years, the prison system's inspector general said Wednesday.

The Commission on Correctional Peace Officer Standards and Training, created seven years ago, has only developed training standards for seven of 27 correctional officer classifications and has yet to approve any of them, Inspector General Matthew Cate said. At that rate, it would take the commission 20 years to complete its work.

The criticism is the latest bad news for the prison system and comes three weeks after prison officials ordered an end to letting guards complete word puzzles as a substitute for nearly a quarter of their annual training. A lawmaker questioned how circling hidden words such as "elf" and "gingerbread" prepared officers to handle dangerous inmates.

The good news for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is that his reorganization of the $7 billion system takes effect today. He is expected to follow that by signing a compromise bill next week to fine-tune the restructuring of the troubled agency.

Cate's three-month review found the commission lacked sufficient money and staff. It said the commission's apprenticeship program for new guards may be decertified by the state Department of Industrial Relations for failing to meet state and federal standards for the past three years.

The report said the commission suffers from "a persistent stalemate" between prison administrators and the powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Each selects three commissioners, leading to a tie on every vote between January 2002 and July 2003, for example.

By June, the commission stopped meeting. Commissioners appointed by the union refused to attend because a vacancy left them one vote short, a problem they blamed on Youth and Adult Correctional Secretary Roderick Hickman for not filling the slot.

"We saw there were some problems in the way it was structured," said prisons spokesman J.P. Tremblay. "You can't get anything done."

Under the reorganization, the commission will be replaced by a larger Correctional Standards Authority, Hickman said. The authority will also set standards for local jails and juvenile facilities, replacing the Board of Corrections. The panel will have an odd number of board members to prevent tie votes.

Union Vice President Lance Corcoran alleged prison officials ''vehemently resisted'' labor's equal voice from the beginning. ''Management has wanted to kill (the commission) from day one. They've finally succeeded under the reorganization.''

An Assembly budget subcommittee chaired by a guards' union member eliminated the entire $29.5 million general fund budget of the Board of Corrections and the commission's entire $1.1 million budget a week ago.



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