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California’s prison system is a mess. Managers aren’t paid enough, guards aren’t supervised enough, and workers don’t stay around long enough. But the biggest problem � according to a court-appointed special master � is a single person: Susan Kennedy. In a draft report issued Tuesday, John Hagar, who was appointed by a federal judge to supervise an overhaul of the state prison system, said that Kennedy, the chief of staff to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has single-handedly stymied what had been a successful effort to reduce misconduct by prison guards. Since 2004, when Senior Northern District of California Judge Thelton Henderson ordered the special master to monitor the state’s progress, “California has taken three steps forward and then three steps back when attempting to reform its troubled prison system,” Hagar wrote. “Following the appointment of Susan Kennedy as the Governor’s chief of staff on Jan. 1, 2006, a series of disturbing developments have taken place,” he added. Most significant, Hagar said, is the renewed power that the California Correctional Peace Officer’s Association � the prison guards’ union, known as the CCPOA � seems to have gained since Kennedy took over. This is especially disturbing to prisoner advocates because Kennedy was the chief of staff to former Gov. Gray Davis, who was notoriously tight with the guards. Schwarzenegger’s initial refusal to take campaign contributions from the union was “perhaps the most energizing aspect of the reform process,” wrote Hagar. “Gov. Schwarzenegger’s approach to prison management was in striking contrast to the policy of the Davis administration,” he wrote. “During the Davis Administrations, CCPOA officials exercised their close relationship with the governor and his chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, to interfere with the management discretion necessary to run the largest prison system in the United States.” That’s once again the norm, Hagar said, pointing out several specific incidents of interference by the union. These include the departures of two correctional department directors this year who were upset with growing union influence, ongoing union attempts to intimidate guards who break the “code of silence” by participating in investigations of co-workers, and meetings between Kennedy and union officials occurring at a time when she wouldn’t meet with corrections department managers. Furthermore, the report says, the union has apparently had a say in who is appointed to be the state’s chief labor negotiator with the prison guards. “Susan Kennedy,” Hagar wrote, “appears to have given the CCPOA veto power over this critical appointment.” One of the lawyers for the Prison Law Project representing plaintiffs in the case, Madrid v. Tilton, 90-3094 � a class action originally filed by prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison in 1990 � said the special master’s findings were disturbing, if not unexpected. “It’s appalling,” said Steven Fama. “It raises some very serious concerns about the current status of the Department of Corrections, and their willingness to go ahead with the reforms that Judge Henderson required.” A spokesman for the guards’ union couldn’t be reached by press time. And in an e-mailed response, a Schwarzenegger spokeswoman said “California prisons are in a crisis. In order to have comprehensive reform there must be constructive dialogue with all stakeholders; this includes the legislature, labor unions, management, and other interested parties � including judges.” But Fama said he worries that as long as the guard’s union is a major force in state campaigns, it will hold a bigger stake in the prison debate than anyone else. “It’s no mystery,” he said. “It comes down to money and elections. The inmates can’t contribute to political campaigns.” Hagar’s draft won’t become final until after he hears from all sides at a July 12 hearing. His draft recommendations include a request for public hearings into the governor’s compliance with court orders.

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