August 20, 2004

Assembly Fails to Move Critical Prison Reform Bill Supported by Inspector General

SACRAMENTO - State Senator Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles) expressed her outrage toward the State Assembly for failing to pass legislation that prohibits the release of confidential information regarding prison investigations.

“Today (August 17), justice took a walk on the Assembly floor,” Senator Romero said. “I find it incredible that many members of the Assembly failed to heed the call of the Inspector General, who sent each and every one of them a letter urging their aye vote. This issue was the topic of legislative hearings, the court-ordered Special Master’s report, and the California Attorney General is even involved in this topic.

“My bill would have protected the integrity of prison investigations which currently lacks any amount of credibility. In essence, my bill would have required that prison guards under criminal investigation be treated like any other suspect with no special protections. We have seen the extreme dysfunction prevalent throughout our multi-billion dollar prison system and judging from today’s Assembly vote, that is apparently acceptable to some legislators.

Forty-nine State Assembly-members defeated the key prison reform bill supported by legislative leaders, the Inspector General, the governor’s office and the Attorney General. Sixteen Assemblymembers on the floor, including 11 Democrats, refused to cast their vote.

“We will never correct the many problems at our State prisons until legislators develop a spine and do what is good for California, not what is good for their special interests,” Sen. Romero said. “As legislators elected by the people, the buck stops here. Well, this time the buck stopped on the green carpet of the State Assembly floor.”

SB 1731 was the lynchpin of several legislative efforts to reform California’s sprawling multi-billion dollar prison system. At its most basic point, the bill called for clarification on language in section 9.09 of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) contract. The controversy is over the interpretation of contract language which mandates prison investigators turn over to a prison guard accused of criminal activity any information regarding the investigation.

Inspector General Matthew Cate delivered a letter to each Assemblymember on the floor before the vote on SB 1731, asking them to support the measure.

“By providing the alleged victim’s identity and statement to the suspect prior to the investigation, the State is practically inviting the suspect to collude with potential witnesses, invent an alibi or intimidate the alleged victim into recanting. This is especially true in a prison setting, were an officer suspected of a crime has unlimited access to staff witnesses and a great deal of power over inmate witnesses or victims,” Cate wrote.

He added, “In conversations with local, state and federal prosecutors, I have been told again and again that section 9.09 presents a significant barrier to the fair and effective prosecution of crimes committed by correctional officers.”

“This bill simply asserts that when a crime is investigated at a State prison, a correctional officer will be treated like any other law enforcement official and any other citizen. Had sixteen people had the courage and decency to vote, this measure would have seen the light of day,” said Sen. Romero.

Sen. Romero added that the Assembly action yesterday effectively “tied the Inspector General’s hands behind his back and withheld the tools he needs to begin reforming this broken-down system.”

“I am disappointed certain members of the Assembly caved in to apparent pressures from the powerful prison guards union. Let me be clear: the problem is not necessarily with the union, instead, it is the lack of integrity by certain members of the Assembly for not standing up for what is right.

“We desperately need solid reform at our State prisons. Today’s failure is a step backwards for California in what was a promise to reform a dysfunctional, broken system.”

SB 1731 would have protected the integrity of CDC internal affairs or OIS investigations by preventing confidential or privileged information gathered during an investigation from being released. The current MOU between the state and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association conflicts with state law, however, an arbitration ruling decided in favor of the CCPOA. It is currently being challenged in court. This bill would have strengthened state law, and prohibited release of confidential or privileged information until legal discovery is allowed.

Assemblymember who voted no: Aghazarian, Bates, Bermudez, Chavez, Cogdill, Correa, Cox, Daucher, Dutra, Dutton, Frommer, Garcia, Harman, Haynes, Horton S, Keene, La Malfa, La Suer, Leslie, Maddox, Maldonado, Matthews, Maze, McCarthy, Mountjoy, Nakanishi, Nakano, Parra, Plescia, Runner, Spitzer, Strickland and Wyland.

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