David Allyn Dokich - Serial Child Rapist / High Risk Sex Offender

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

State Prison Reform Hopes in Jeopardy

The recent resignation of the corrections chief raises doubts about the governor's commitment to overhaul the system.

By Jenifer Warren, Times Staff Writer
March 7, 2006

SACRAMENTO — When California's chief of corrections quit in frustration a week ago, a provocative question was left hovering in the air: Can anyone fix the state's dysfunctional prisons?

Will anyone be allowed to?

Reformers were giddy when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed shortly after his 2003 election that he would demand "action, action, action" until the mess in his Department of Corrections was cleaned up. Overcrowding had packed penitentiaries to twice their intended capacity, increasing violence, straining staff and sending costs spiraling out of control.

Inmate medical care had become so poor that a federal receiver was eventually put in charge. And more than half of all convicts released were back in prison within two years.

To champion his agenda, Schwarzenegger picked Roderick Q. Hickman, a former prison guard and warden, as corrections secretary. Though Hickman described himself as a "hook 'em and book 'em guy," he said he believed true public safety was impossible if the state did not do a better job preparing inmates for success on the outside.

For the first time in decades, advocates of reform felt real change was within reach. A popular governor — a Republican! — was singing their tune.

But that optimism has dimmed, and inside the department — now called Corrections and Rehabilitation — employees exhausted by long hours devoted to charting a new course wonder if their efforts will amount to naught.

Explaining his resignation in an interview with The Times, Hickman said he faced dwindling support in the Legislature and governor's office for the changes he had launched. California's "political environment and the power of special interests," he said, "work against efforts to bring about lasting reform."

Day to day, Hickman was handcuffed by the power of the correctional officers union, whose labor contract gives its leaders a say in virtually every change that affects the workplace. The union, whose leaders lambasted Hickman from the start, also is a powerful player in the Legislature, capable of killing reform bills.

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