News

California’s top corrections official leaves office as courts, Legislature aim at prisons

Corrections Secretary Rod Hickman’s abrupt decision to resign his post took
colleagues, lawmakers and many in the Schwarzenegger administration by
surprise. It was prompted in part by a Senate confirmation fight that he was
likely to lose, and dwindling support within the administration.

A grueling personal schedule that included heavy travel and absences from
his wife and young son, plus unrelenting criticism stemming from an array of
high-profile policy disputes–including the court-ordered federal takeover of
the prisons’ flawed, billion-dollar health care system–were critical factors
in his decision.

Hickman, 49, also confronted a political landscape in which the state’s
much-criticized, five-year collective bargaining agreement with the
California Correctional Peace Officers Association–a group that has been
unrelenting in its criticism of Hickman–was up for renewal by July 1. The
31,000 members of the CCPOA guard the state’s three-dozen prisons. The
existing contract was negotiated with the administration of former Gov. Gray
Davis. It included favorable overtime provisions and a 37 percent pay hike
worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the life of the contract–which
sparked controversy because of their size and because of the hefty political
donations that CCPOA made to Davis’ political campaigns.

Hickman himself, through a spokeswoman, did not wish to discuss his
resignation with Capitol Weekly. Last Saturday evening, after telling a
handful of ranking members in the administration that he intended to leave,
he called the Los Angeles Times and said he was departing in part because
“the special interests we’re up against are just too powerful to get much
done in the current environment.”

Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Atherton, who has conducted investigations of the
state prison system, said Hickman’s timing was ‘very peculiar and it
suggests a falling out of some sort.”

In an earlier interview with Capitol Weekly, Hickman The confirmation “is
not something I am looking forward to,” Hickman said. “I do think people are
in opposition to me, but I don’t know exactly why.”

The “special interests” alluded to by Hickman have long included the CCPOA–a
characterization rejected by CCPOA spokesman Lance Corcoran. “Mr. Hickman
was going to be forced to answer some very tough questions. The vacancy
problem (among the staffs), the largest inmate population we’ve ever had,
the first time in the history of the department we had the murder of a
female inmate by another female


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