Monday, July 17, 2006

Law and Politics in California Prisons

There is no time like the present to be studying the interaction of courts and state government in shaping California prison policy. Case in point is the remarkable statements by John Hagar, the Special Master appointed by Judge Thelton Henderson to 0versee a broad set of prison reforms in California prisons. In a unique "Draft Report" filed on June 20, 2006 and in a hearing on July 12th, Hagar accused the sitting Governor and his political aids of entering a pre-election conspiracy with the politically powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA). Hagar began by praising the Schwarznegger administration during its first 24 months for "one of the most productive periods of prison reform in California history." Indeed, after his recall victory in 2003, Schwarznegger moved rapidy to settle a number of law suits against the prison system, conceding major constitutional violations, and called for a reinvigorated committment to rehabilitation in California prisons (going so far as to rename the agency.

Since the Governor's defeat in last year's ballot refenda battle and his hiring of former Gray Davis aid Susan Kennedy, reform has been effectively stalled. A weakened Schwarznegger still espouses reform, but Hagar charges the Governor is now in a deferential posture toward the powerful CCPOA. According to Hagar union representatives have met directly with Kennedy to negotiate about prison management issues, effectively cutting the top management of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency and the California Department of Corrections.

The acccusations, denied by Kennedy and other Schwarznegger officials, may shed light on the rapid fire resignations earlier this spring of two major reform administrators. Secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, Rod Hickman, and his replacement, former Director of Corrections Jeanne Woodford. Both resigned indicating frustration at the pace of reform.

Fascinatingly, this is not just about heated rhetoric. The Special Master seems likely to refer several former California Correctional officials for federal criminal charges relating to the mistreatment of a whiste blower who reported inmate abuse at California's notorious Pelican Bay prison.

Jennifer Warren's reporting in the LA Times.

Mike Martin's reporting in the SF Chronicle on the June draft report

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Limits of Coercive Power

Your jurisprude was recently rereading the classic study of coercive power under law, William K. Muir's Police: Streetcorner Politicians (Chicago 1977). After noting that policing is essentially about coercive power, Muir says this about the limits of coercive power.

"The truly dispossesed --- those who have nothing to lose, the life prisoner in solitary, the deadbeat, the bankrupt, and the visionary whose life is worth less than his martyrdom --- are not vulnerable to extortionate power. ... Let us call this curious freedom from coercive threats the paradox of dispossession. The less one has, the less one has to lose." (Muir 1977, 38-9)

Does anyone think it would be worth sending a copy to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert? It seems obvious to this observer (one with great compassion personally for both sides) that one could easily add Hamas and much of Gaza to Muir's litany of the dispossessed without any stretch. But this puts Israel at the heart of Muir's paradox. If they want a purely military victory they can attain that by driving the population off the land altogether or killing them, but if they want a police victory, if they want to be able to govern rather than eliminate Palestinian society (or even allow anyone else to do so) they are already operating at the limits of their ability to coerce.