The Toughest Beat: Politics, Punishment, and the Prison Officers Union in California

Research output: Book/ReportBook

215 Scopus citations


When a panel of federal judges ruled in August 2009 that California must release a full one-quarter of its prisoners, it did more than insist that 40,000 people go free. It asserted that what was once a "correctional crisis," marked by deadly overcrowding and monumental prison mismanagement, had become chronic. No longer a temporary phenomenon, the "critical condition" of the Golden State's prisons was now the normal state of affairs. This book shows how the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the labor union representing prison officers and other correctional workers, had transformed from a loose, fraternal organization into one of the most politically potent and feared interest groups in the nation. The book describes how the union promoted ultratough policies like "Three Strikes and You're Out," empowered political figures and groups that supported its interests and views on criminal punishment, and frustrated efforts to privatize prisons. And as its leaders made strides for its members, the union also influenced the nature, purpose, and scope of imprisonment. So to understand California's deep and durable penal crisis, The book explains, we cannot neglect the story of this group so often known simply as "the powerful prison guards' union." The book draws on years of intensive research as he uses the lessons of the CCPOA to explore how actors create, shape, and protect their preferred status quo and considers whether, by making these mechanisms clear, we might open the door to real and lasting change in the penal field and beyond.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages312
ISBN (Electronic)9780199893560
ISBN (Print)9780195384055
StatePublished - May 1 2011


  • California
  • Interest groups
  • Penal field
  • Politics
  • Prison officers union


Dive into the research topics of 'The Toughest Beat: Politics, Punishment, and the Prison Officers Union in California'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this