In California, the prison industry is the fastest growing industry around. In fact, if you want to talk about pure political muscle, there is no lobby quite as strong as the prison lobby. Consider what the prison guard's union has helped to accomplish in the last 20 years. They have increased tenfold the number of inmates in prison, they have increased exponentially the number of prisons, they have backed numerous draconian laws to ensure that more and more people go to prison for longer and longer for doing less and less.
Plenty of you have seen me write about people facing absurd amounts of time for relatively minor offenses, based in part on things they did when they were 16 years old, or things that happened 25 years ago. Now they face life for possession of a rock of cocaine.
The prison union has done more than that, though. They have also leaned on politicians to ensure that only district attorneys are appointed as judges. In the administrations of Governors Duekmeijian and Wilson (16 years total from 1982-1998), and even Gray Davis, judges were overwhelming chosen from the District Attorney's office. Thus, the judiciary is filled with law enforcement, with an agenda of putting away as many people as possible, no matter how much we have to subvert the laws to do it.
In 1986, bankrolled by business interests, three members of the California Supreme Court were removed from office. The reason that got everyone upset - they were battered relentlessly for being opposed to the death penalty and reversing so many death sentences. Mind you, in the 18 years since then, only 5 people have been executed in California, so it doesn't look like they played that much of a role, and exactly how much better off are we now that 5 people (out of a death row approaching 700) have been executed? But, the irony is that the crime issue was only a pretext (sort of like focusing on weapons of mass destruction), the real moneyed interests behind that recall (actually it was a vote against their confirmation) were business interests that were trying to make California a less pleasant place to sue from.
Regardless of who wanted them out more, both sides succeeded with the recall, and ensured that California's judiciary would become much more responsive to the two right wing lobbies in California - Crime and business.
The effect on Criminal law has been dramatic. Through the tyranny of a doctrine known as "harmless error," the California Courts have managed to uphold a startlingly high amount of death senteces, no matter how flawed (the Federal Courts of Appeal in the 9th Circuit has been reversing these rulings an equally startling rate recently). The main thrust of every opinion is this: sure he didn't get a fair trial, and his statement shouldn't have come in as evidence, and the DA shouldn't have been able to bring out the fact that he likes pornography, and the police did do an illegal search, and the defense lawyer was prevented from cross-examining the witnesses, and wholesale hearsay was allowed in without a proper ability to confront it, but hey, we know he's guilty, and those errors were harmless, now let's kill him already.
Courts of Appeal do the same thing, upholding verdicts that are clearly wrong as a matter of fact and law just to ensure that people do not get out of jail. Then they don't publish their decisions, so they never really have to be scrutinized. Or the Supreme Court will depublish (literally wipe it's precedential value off the books as if it never happened, although the decision itself still stands).
We now have a judiciary that makes Mississippi's look like Earl Warren. California used to be a shining light of example for the rest of the country, now we're sneered at. Courts in states like Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and other deep south states used to affirm an abnormally high rate of death sentences, something like 60-70%. California's affirmance rate is in the high 90s.
And so much of this is thanks to the prison guard's union (I'm sure any right wing readers will be dusting off their checkbooks at this point to mail a donation to this union - don't bother, they're doing just fine looting the treasury instead).
In fact, an article today in the LA Times details to what extent the prison guard's union runs this state's prnal system. They choose wardens, they get paid so much money that no one wants to become a supervisor - they have to leave the guard's union and they make less money). They get so much sick time they don't know what to do with it, and now they no longer need doctor's notes when they are suspected of abusing it. Overtime costs have skyrocketed, their pay keeps going up higher than any other public employee, and if they are asked to work a shift due to someone else calling in sick, they get paid overtime, even if they have called in sick themselves.
It is a total scam, and yet, I am more scared of them than I am of anyone else, because if, God forbid, I ever got into their sights as someone they wanted to get, they could get me. Have me put into prison for some trumped up reason, and they can guarantee that you never walk out alive. Their power makes Abu Ghraib look tame by comparison.
All because politicians love to pose for pictures next to cops and claim to be "tough on crime."