One of the great frustrations for would-be governmental reformers in California is that unions thwart punishments even for the most terrible-behaving employees. Police misbehavior, for instance, is shielded in secrecy thanks to the state Supreme Court's Copley decision, and legislation that would strip pensions for government employees convicted of on-the-job felonies was killed in the state Legislature. It can take years to get rid of misbehaving teachers and usually school districts will pay them to go away -- it's far cheaper than spending eight years adjudicating the matter. So it was with some relief that I read this news story pointing to prison guards who lost their jobs or were forced to resign for smuggling cell phones to prisoners. In typical California fashion, legislation had passed to clamp down on the problem, but the simple solution -- forcing guards to go through a checkpoint -- was opposed by the prison guards' union.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, "The report released this month by the prison's Office of the Inspector General identified 419 cases of serious rules violations monitored by the watchdog agency in the first six months of this year. Among the cases were those of 54 employees accused of smuggling phones. In addition to the 20 who lost their jobs, 13 had the allegations against them dropped and the rest remain under investigation, the report shows. The watchdog identified taboo romances as a common motive."
Police and prison guards argue that without tougher accountability the general populace is more apt to misbehave. Yet they exempt their own ranks from that obvious standard. The punishments meted out to these law-breaking guards are relatively minor, but maybe there's some movement in the right direction.