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The politics of prison guards


Over the past few weeks, we’ve been bringing you exclusive stories from inside some of the state’s most secure prisons, including San Quentin. And we've been focusing on the people with the least amount of political power: the inmates. Now we turn our attention to another group within the prison system, and one with considerably more political influence: the prison guards. 

Since the early 1980s, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, or CCPOA, has spent millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions. Through its spending, the prison guards union has influenced the outcome of elections and ballot measures like the three strikes rule. Over that same time period, and over the last thirty years, sentences have gotten longer, penalties have grown harsher and more prisons have been built to hold more and more inmates.

JoAnn Mar has been following California's prison overcrowding crisis for several years and found that the CCPOA in particular has benefited a lot from the prison build-up. She spoke with KALW's Hana Baba.

JOANN MAR: It's too bad that our attitudes towards prisoners and prisons keeps swinging wildly back and forth from rehabilitation to punishment and back again. I think it's led to the dysfunction that were seeing today in California's prisons.

Click the audio player above to listen to the complete interview.

JoAnn Mar is the producer of the radio documentary Prisons in Crisis: A State of Emergency in California and has reported on prison guards for Making Contact. She is also the host of Folk Music and Beyond on


Hana Baba is host of Crosscurrents, KALW's weeknight newsmagazine that broadcasts on KALW Public Radio in the San Francisco Bay Area.