I’m pleased to see that the Commonwealth Foundation is taking a civil libertarian line on reducing the prison population instead of giving political cover to chest-thumping “tough on crime” lawmakers. They’re absolutely right about this shameful behavior from the corrections officers’ union:
As Pennsylvania takes a hard look at reforming its criminal justice system, prepare for the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association’s fear-mongering campaign against reducing prison populations.
The officers’ union opposition surfaced in today’s Patriot-News article. The article explains Corrections Secretary John Wetzel’s plan to reduce the inmate population by more than 2,500 next year by making the correction system more efficient. For instance, it can take more than 100 days after an inmate is granted parole until he’s released. Reducing this time would not only free up prison beds, it saves significant tax dollars—an extra 100 days in prison wastes $9,000.
As the prison population declines, so could the number of correction officers. From the experience in other states, such as California and New York, self-interested unions have stonewalled meaningful reforms that would chip away at their jobs.
CF is using a union-busting frame to be maximally persuasive to an audience of Republican lawmakers, staffers and voters, but that’s the basic shape of the issue.
I’d put it more like this: if we’re going to achieve the progressive goal of reversing the terrifying trend of runaway mass incarceration, that necessarily means fewer people are going to work as corrections officers.
That’s just how it is – if we want fewer prisons, some of the people who now work in prisons will have to do something else.
On a lot of key issues, the political goals of the Democratic Party and the economic interests of unions are broadly aligned, so Democratic voters are usually primed to agree with whatever the union position is on a given issue.
But on this issue, the unions’ interests are aligned with the private prisons industry, and their goal is an ever-increasing prison population that will employ an ever-increasing number of corrections officers.
This makes perfect sense from the prison industry’s standpoint, but I think most progressives would agree with me that unchecked prison growth would be a moral disaster, and an extremely dark vision of the future.
The really upsetting thing about the Patriot News article is that the corrections officers’ union isn’t even fearmongering about a change in sentencing laws or drug laws or anything else that would reduce the expected future growth of the prison population.
The policy they’re pushing back on would merely let inmates who are already approved to be released on parole to be released on a shorter timetable. Can you imagine what’s going to happen if somebody ever proposes real sentencing reform?