Public Employee Unions=Too Expensive?

Is a Public Employee’s Union in California raising the cost of the prison system?  Should the prisons be sold to private companies to save the states money?

In my last post, I explored the movement across the country to privatize the prison systems in many states.  We looked at the high cost of maintaining prisons and one of the major reasons why the cost is suddenly so high–longer prison sentences and less chance for parole.

Starting in the 1980’s legislatures across the U.S. decided to “get tough on crime” by adding prison sentences to crimes that previously didn’t call for them and lengthening existing prison sentences, reducing the time on parole.

As a consequence, the prison populations in most states have sky-rocketed and so have the costs.

Before I look at an NPR story, I have to disclose that I am a member of a public employee union along with the prosecutors and public defenders in the county where I work.

A fascinating report from National Public Radio investigated the prison system in California.  See their story at:


Besides the increased prison sentences, they found a curious connection between the California Correctional Peace Officers Association–a public employee union–and the rising costs of the prison system there.  The union has become one of the most powerful political forces in the state.  Over the years, it’s contributed millions of dollars in support of tougher laws and longer prison sentences.  Since these laws passed, the number of union correctional officers has grown from 2,600 to 45,000.  The average salary in 1980 was $15,000.  By 2009 one out of ten officers made over $100,000.

Talk about an increase in costs!

NPR found that most of the funding to support new laws that increased prison penalties came from a political action committee that the union created for the purpose of  promoting a “Victim’s Rights Group.”  Question: why is a public employee union of correctional officers supporting victim’s rights?  And why should locking people away for longer time do much to help victims?

Today in California, most of the Corrections Department budget goes for salaries and benefits of the union employees. (70%) While just 5% goes for education and vocational training for inmates to give them job skills so that when they’re released, they don’t have to commit crime to support themselves.  To me, investing in job skills is actually going to help potential victims since the paroled inmates won’t be committing as many crimes.

I’m not saying that public employee unions have caused the same result in every state–but it sure looks like it in California.

What should we do about it?

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