Congratulations! And, It’s Okay to Change Your Mind

Israeli Minister of Transportation and Chair of the Labor Party, Merav Michaeli, and her partner, TV personality Lior Schleien, have a baby boy called Uri. I’m delighted for them!

After a long and unsuccessful IVF journey, Michaeli and Schleien had the kid through a U.S. surrogate. This is not uncommon in Israel, especially among same-sex couples, because adoption is extremely difficult and fraught there (infant adoption is almost impossible.) When they flew to the U.S., Michaeli was deeply criticized by many for leaving the country at a time of rising COVID rates; the trip was perceived as ill-timed and frivolous. Then, they returned and posted about the kid. As is always the case in the New Salem, opinions abound about this in the public square. Let’s summarize them so we can short-circuit the tired tropes: (1) People who criticized her for taking a trip to the U.S. doubling down on their abuse, showing themselves to be troglodytes; (2) people who criticized her now apologizing, showing how repro-centric Israel is and how kids are the great equalizer, mainstreamer, and justification for everything; (3) people digging out Michaeli’s old statements criticizing surrogacy and her lack of desire to have kids; (4) people opining (positively or negatively) about how stodgy and mainstream she has become, assuming that parenting cannot be the scene of anything fresh or revolutionary. I find all of this trite and exhausting, so let’s leave it at that. A delightful couple has a new child and I wish them all the joy in the world!

There’s only one thing I can contribute to this discussion: as I know from my own experience, there are seasons to every life, and it is okay to change one’s mind and life plan as one ages. For the longest time, I did not want kids, and then, gradually, I changed my mind, and now I’m Rio’s mom and I’m happy as can be. I would never pontificate to people who want to be child-free about the truly wonderful and rich experience of being a parent. It is everyone’s prerogative to do what they wish with their one wild and precious life. So I’ll just whisper in your ear, like a friend: This path is open to you, and it is perfectly okay for you to change your mind, or not. Listen to the gentle breeze blowing within yourself and see whether you can find within an unpressured, unhurried desire to be a parent. It’s for you to decide whether you want to answer that call and in what way. There are many ways to bring nurturing, loving, teaching, mentoring energy into your life, be it through your own kid–biological or not–or other kids or adults. Just stay attuned to the seasons of your soul and they will not lead you astray.

Parole News & Another Great Review of Yesterday’s Monsters

The COVID-19 crisis is truly driving home one of the main themes of Yesterday’s Monsters: The counterproductivity and cruelty of incarcerating aging, infirm people for interminable periods. I wrote about this on the UC Press blog and have a new piece coming out of the International Criminal Law Review. But better than anything I could write on this is this phenomenal episode of Ear Hustle with Leslie Van Houten, in which her reflective nature and elegant turns of phrase drive home the outlandishness of spending fifty years of one’s life behind bars. I’ve commented on the irony of yet another gubenatorial veto on Van Houten’s release precisely when her prison was experiencing a serious outbreak, and it shows again how the shadow of the past and political hysteria still drive parole outcomes. Highly recommended.

Along the same lines, the new issue of Critical Criminology features a great new review of Yesterday’s Monsters by Rita Shah, author of The Meaning of Rehabilitation and Its Impact on Parole. Here it is, reproduced in its entirety:

Twenty-twenty was a watershed year for conversations around criminal justice reform, abolition, and transformative justice. Calls for change gained public support in ways rarely seen before. The combined ills of COVID-19 and police brutality highlighted issues within the “criminal legal system”Footnote1 of the United States (US) that could no longer be ignored. And yet, one area of the system remains in the background: community corrections. For all the calls to reform or abolish the carceral state, the “Cinderella complex” surrounding community supervision (Robinson 2016) helps maintain these systems as public secrets (Shah 2020). One book published in 2020 that aims to shed light on issues within a part of these systems—parole—is Hadar Aviram’s Yesterday’s Monsters: The Manson Family Cases and the Illusion of Parole.

Aviram’s book makes it clear that parole, particularly parole hearings, must be a part of conversations around criminal justice reform and transformative justice, and she uses an unusual case to do so. As Aviram notes in the Preface and Acknowledgments, she never intended to write a book about the Manson Family. Similarly, many of us never intend to read a book about the Mansons. In this case, however, not doing so would be a mistake. Yes, it is a book about the Manson Family. But it is also not a book about the Manson Family. Aviram deftly uses the story and lore of the Mansons as a vehicle to take a deep dive into the very opaque process of parole hearings and release decisions. Yesterday’s Monsters: The Manson Family Cases and the Illusion of Parole is also an examination of societal views on violent offenses and an exploration of how assumptions and prejudices about those who commit such crimes haunt the US criminal legal system decades after the fact. “The too long, didn’t read” summary for Aviram’s book is: come for the Manson Family cases; stay for the carceral critique.

Aviram’s book is divided into an Introduction and seven chapters. In the Introduction, Aviram provides the impetus for the book: she notes that violent crimes are a key point of analysis because they often lead to dramatic changes in criminal justice policy; she explains why the Manson Family hearings offer a unique window into how parole hearings operate, particularly given the extensive records available; and she describes the notion of parole as a performative space as a way of framing parole hearings. The following two chapters contextualize the analysis presented in the book. Chapter One provides a fantastic crash course on parole, including its purpose, how the role of parole within corrections has changed over the years, and how the parole system operates, including the administrative side of parole and the parole hearing process, as well as how legal cases impact the process. Chapter Two takes a broader look at the California penal system and examines how the return of the death penalty in the late 1970s, the rise of victims’ rights advocacy, and cases such as those involving the Manson Family sowed the seeds for a trifecta of extreme punishments: 1) the death penalty; 2) life without parole; and 3) life through the constant denial of parole or, what Aviram (2020: 40) calls, “life de facto.” These three punishments, Aviram argues, provide the background for two key themes about parole hearings that are presented in the remaining chapters.

The first key theme, the role of narrative in parole hearings, is brought to light in Chapters Three through Six. Narrative plays a role in these hearings in four ways. First, in Chapter Three, Aviram uses narrative analysis to discuss the various stories that were used to explain the Manson Family murders and how the “Helter Skelter” narrative rose to prominence. Aviram expands this analysis in Chapter Four to show how the “Helter Skelter” narrative impacts the Manson Family’s parole hearings and the story that parole board members expect in such hearings. In Chapter Five, Aviram shows how the desire for a specific story by board members impacts parole hearings for all individuals under consideration, not just the Mansons. Finally, in Chapter Six, Aviram introduces the notion of the “Bardo”— the idea that one’s future is predicated on one’s past—and how it can be used to conceptualize the entire process of release to parole.

The analysis presented in these four chapters echoes an oft-repeated line from Hamilton: An American Musical: “Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?” In the case of parole hearings, who tells the story and the narrative chosen is the crux for determining who lives and who dies. As Aviram argues, the key to the narrative for all parole hearings is the notion of insight, which seems to be a stand-in for rehabilitation. Like rehabilitation (see Shah 2017), insight seems be a bullshit term as determining whether one has gained insight or is on the road to rehabilitation appears to be the criminal legal system’s equivalent of “I’ll know when I see it.” But this, ironically, requires insight on behalf of the parole board to know what they want to see and the ability to convey that to the individual being considered. Hence, both insight and rehabilitation raise questions about how success is defined and who gets to define it (see, e.g., Heidemann et al. 2015). These questions become key as the notion of “success” seems to be the basis of the narrative the board is seeking, even if that is not what they call it.

Unfortunately, for the individuals involved in the Manson Family cases, the narrative desired is also impacted by the narrative told about the crimes themselves. As Aviram notes, while the narrative that “stuck” was the “Helter Skelter” narrative, two more sympathetic and arguably more accurate narratives—that of a cult and that of common criminals—also exist. Nevertheless, the “Helter Skelter” narrative is the one used against the Manson Family members. In doing so, the parole board members and the victims and their representatives use the narrative to write a book with a predetermined ending, and no matter what the characters do or what the system allows them to do, the book will end the same way. This is made abundantly clear in the story of one Manson Family member, Susan Atkins, who, while literally on her death gurney, was still denied release for fear of her “dangerousness.”Footnote2

Indeed, adherence to the desired narrative—one that focuses on the ability to build a life in prison as expected by the parole board but one which is often difficult to achieve—reveals a frustrating Catch-22. On the one hand, the parole board requires attending programs, many of which do not exist or are not accessible because of housing and work schedules, and it dismisses the sort of self-led programming individuals participate in to try to meet this requirement. Thus, the parole board’s refusal to acknowledge the reality of life in prison is used to undermine attempts at progress and thus deny release. On the other hand, the parole board chides individuals for not obtaining specific job skills. This can lead to an undermining of parole plans—such as the case of Manson Family member Bobby Beausoleil, who showed evidence that obtaining a well-paying job is possible—which also leads to a denial of release. In other words, the narrative is set, and parole board members utilize their knowledge in ways that ensure the ending they desire.

For individuals seeking parole, the parole board’s preferred narratives also raise real questions about when or even if it possible to become an “ex” or “former,” whether it be offender or incarcerated individual. Individuals before the parole board are made to re-tell their histories over and over again, and the parole board relies heavily on the initial conviction and past infractions, risk assessments, and therapist notes when making their decision. This makes it virtually impossible for those eligible for consideration to ever become more than who they were. The “moral memory” holders present at the hearings—the prosecutors, victims, and victims’ representatives—certainly do not help in creating new narratives about the present or future.

The second key theme, the notion of the “Bardo,” appears in Chapters Six and Seven. As noted above, the concept of the “Bardo” is introduced in Chapter Six as an analogy for how one’s future is dependent on one’s past rather than one’s present. In the concluding chapter, Chapter Seven, Aviram continues this discussion, noting that the “Bardo” is a liminal space between death and rebirth. For the parole hearings, the “Bardo” is “a cycle between hope and disappointment, preparation and hibernation, action and inaction, self-improvement and self-assessment, in which inmates have to participate and lawyers act as ‘hope managers’” (Aviram 2020: 206). This cycle creates a situation where, at least during the parole hearing, individuals eligible for consideration remain stuck in a liminal space, not fully incarcerated but not yet free, both human and yet not-human. While Aviram focuses on parole, the concept of “Bardo” and analysis presented point to two larger issues within the criminal legal system as a whole: 1) the notion of the system as “effective”; and 2) the challenge of reentry to society post-release.

First, the “Bardo” raises questions about how effectiveness is measured by the parole board members and by other aspects of the system. The parole board, as Aviram highlights, focuses on a particular rationale for its decisions: an individual who is being considered for parole and has successfully completed programs and/or met the amorphous requirements the board sets for release are due solely to the successful nature of the incarceration experience. But those who fail—even when the failure is due to the systematic problems of incarceration—fail solely because of their own (in)ability to obtain proper insight and meet the unattainable requirements. In other words, the parole board deeming someone suitable for release is a testament to the idea that “prison works,” but denying release is a testament to the parole board’s role in maintaining public safety. The parole hearings are a classic case of the house always wins. But this faulty logic is precisely the logic that enables the “Bardo” to survive. The liminal space between death in prison and rebirth in society is maintained not through any real notion of making the right decisions, but through the illusion of prisons as a “correcting space” and “public safety” as a catch-all justification for carceral spaces—two terms that arguably create yet another “Bardo” and that help the board members justify their roles.

In reading Aviram’s analysis, I would argue that the notion that the house always wins can also be applied to other aspects of the criminal legal system. For probation and parole supervision, for instance, successfully navigating and being discharged from supervision is due entirely to the effectiveness of supervising agents. Getting revoked, however, is entirely the fault of the individual and a sign of the system maintaining public safety regardless of larger social factors at play. Again, the house wins. For policing, a drop in crime rates is a sign of the effectiveness of policing. A rise in the crime rate is a sign that there is not enough policing. Again, the house wins. In other words, the entire criminal legal system is a “Bardo”—one that holds society in between death (framed in language that evokes fear of crime critiques) and rebirth (framed in the language of public safety). And the language of the “Bardo” is used to maintain and justify the system’s existence and assure its continuation.

The second issue Aviram’s discussion points to is the “Bardo” of parole and reentry, more broadly. Parole, itself, is a liminal space—one that functions as a state-run reentry program: one in which an individual is free but not really free. While on parole, the conditions one must follow and the fear of revocation ensure the individual is constantly aware that he/she/they is/are still held by a sentence of the state and a reminder that the system is designed to uphold the notion that those under supervision are inherently bad and destined to fail (McNeill 2019). Furthermore, collateral consequences continue to impact them (see, e.g., Brisman 2004, 2007; Williams and Rumpf 2020). In fact, unless one’s criminal history is purged completely, all individuals with a record remain entangled in a lifelong “Bardo”: they are both in society but not of it.

Combined, the two themes regarding the role of narratives and the implications of the “Bardo” show that those sentenced to life with the possibility of parole are damned if they do and damned if they do not. Aviram highlights how life with the possibility of parole is, indeed, “life de facto”: it is essentially a life without the possibility of parole, which is, in turn, a stand-in for the death penalty. What emerges is a reminder that the system functions exactly as it was meant to. While Aviram offers suggestions for improving the parole hearing process, the analysis raises serious questions as to whether parole is a system worth saving. Thus, while Yesterday’s Monsters: The Manson Family Cases and the Illusion of Parole does not explicitly support abolitionist arguments, it could be used to do so. But that is not its only use. Aviram’s book is also a testament to the value of historical, narrative, and qualitative analysis. Scholars and students wishing to learn more about these methods, about parole, or about how to tackle the behemoth that is the criminal legal system “Bardo” will find this book a useful read.

Many thanks to Rita for this careful read and excellent review–and especially for the useful zinger “the house always wins”, which perfectly captures how parole works and what we need to fix.

Your Essential Guide to the Recall Election (TL;DR Vote No)

Why do we have a recall election?

The political circus we are experiencing is the product of a year of angry fomentation on the part of anti-maskers and Trumpers in CA. The New York Times offers a good background story for you.

Has this happened before?

We’ve had 179 recall attempts in CA, 54 of them against governors, which reflects California’s populistic and polarized political culture. Only one gubernatorial recall was successful–the recall of Gray Davis in 2003.

Is this even legal?

It’s certainly wasteful and silly, but yesterday I came across a New York Times op-ed that argues that it might not even be constitutional. As I understand it, Chemerinsky and Edlin think the problem lies in the two-tiered referendum; many more people will vote “no” on the recall than would vote for any of the 46 candidates, which means that, if the recall is successful, the person elected governor will not have received the majority of CA votes. It’s an interesting argument.

Who are the 46 gubernatorial candidates in line to replace Newsom?

Pretty much everyone and their pet armadillo. Among the better known ones are reality show sensation Caitlyn Jenner, who does not actually understand the distinction between the state and the counties, and incendiary radio show host Larry Elder, who would repeal all mask mandates, hand the homeless problem to religious organizations, and support overturning Roe v. Wade. This gives you a fair idea of the pool of talent on the opposite side.

What will the questions on the ballot look like?

The ballot will feature two questions. The first one reads, “Shall GAVIN NEWSOM be recalled (removed) from the office of governor?” The possible answers are yes or no. The second question lists 46 people and asks who should replace Newsom in the event that he is recalled. You may answer the second question even if you voted “no” on the first question.

What do you think we should do?

It’s very simple. Vote NO on the first question and ignore the second.

No, really.


Shouldn’t we at least bother to figure out who we prefer among the 46 candidates?

I guess you can, if you’re feeling like earning extra civic points. Those of you who have followed the blog for a while know that I usually take the trouble to do the due diligence for you. But given the political animus behind this recall, what are the odds of finding a reasonable, politically experienced, science minded person in the lot, to whom you would trust handing a gubernatorial office midterm to handle a pandemic?

But haven’t you been railing against Newsom’s handling of the pandemic in prisons?

Yes, of course I have–which is the reason I have not donated or agitated in this campaign. Couldn’t bring myself to, as I’m still disgusted with the completely preventable catastrophe that continues to play out in our prisons and jails. But I’m not an idiot, and I do understand the concept of the lesser evil. If you are so warped in single-issue agitation that you can’t see the qualitative differences between Newsom–an experienced and capable politician–and the rest of the lot, you need better glasses.

What do you think will happen?

It’s California, so it’s anyone’s guess. But I am hopeful that sanity will prevail.

The Staff Is the Problem, Contd.

I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s not me–it’s the news. Not only are the San Francisco Sheriff Department’s employees threatening resignation over the vaccine mandates, but CCPOA, possibly the most bad-faith actor in the whole COVID-19 prison crisis, is now fighting the state vaccine mandate in Sacramento. The UCLA COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project summarized this problem in a data-rich blog post, and the danger is plain and evident from this modeling piece in the Lancet. I’ve already spent considerable time discussing this here and here among many other places. My newest take on this is on KCBS. My position on this can be summarized in seven points:

  1. Adopting exactly the opposite position than the one they should on vaccination is part and parcel of the pandemic approach of custodial staff and their approach stinks from the top. It harmonizes with their failure to mask, mockery of the residents’ fears, and disgusting fomentation of fear and disinformation.
  2. The problem is dual: CCPOA’s political capture as well as the COVID denialism of the rank and file. We can only speculate about Trumpism among the ranks based on what we know from other law enforcement agencies.
  3. As the dismaying San Francisco story demonstrates, what happens at CDCR mirrors what happens in the counties, where things are even worse b/c the incarcerated incarcerated population’s vaccine rates are considerably lower than in state prisons (a more transient and considerably younger group).
  4. Neither the governor’s office nor the courts have done enough to bring about acceptable staff vaccination rates, and have instead focused their energy on giving bonuses, consulting with gentle persuasion experts, and lavishly complimenting CCPOA for even deigning to show their faces in federal courts. Our executive and judicial branches must share in this shame.
  5. Take it from my colleague, Dorit Reiss, who specializes in vaccine law: There is no valid legal or constitutional argument correctional officers can lob against the vaccine mandate. CCPOA and the Sheriff’s Department have not got a leg to stand on.
  6. Anyone unwilling to do their part to prevent a medical catastrophe among the people they are in charge of is not a good fit for a custodial job.
  7. Finally, I’ve heard countless variations on the theme of “it’s complicated”, “we have to remunerate/reward them instead”, and “how can we attract people to work for us/avoid dangerous vacancies if we impose a vaccine mandate”: If correctional institutions find it impossible to recruit enough people who can be conscientious about the vaccine, the conclusion to draw is that we should not incarcerate as many people as we do.

Christ, These Parole Officers!

Today brings a special offering from the Tenth Circuit: Janny v. Gamez exposes (and finds unconstitutional) some religious coercion in reentry programming. The facts:

Mark Janny was released from jail on parole in early 2015. His parole officer, John Gamez, directed Mr. Janny to establish his residence of record at the Rescue Mission in Fort Collins, Colorado, and to abide by its “house rules.” After arriving at the Mission, Mr. Janny learned he had been enrolled in “Steps to Success,” a Christian transitional program involving mandatory prayer, bible study, and church attendance. When Mr. Janny objected, citing his atheist beliefs, he alleges both Officer Gamez and Jim Carmack, the Mission’s director, repeatedly told him he could choose between participating in the Christian programming or returning to jail. Less than a week later, Mr. Carmack expelled Mr. Janny from the Mission for skipping worship services, leading to Mr. Janny’s arrest on a parole violation and the revocation of his parole.

That this offends the First Amendment should be obvious–but apparently wasn’t to the parole officer. And I think it would be a mistake to view this through a narrow prism of preferential treatment for evangelical Christianity. I say this because, in Yesterday’s Monsters, I devoted a considerable amount of the narrative to the way the parole commissioners treated Susan Atkins, Bruce Davis, and Tex Watson, all of whom are born-again Christians. I wrote:

A charismatic, proselytizing religion, characterized by the consistent responsibility to offer ministry to others and draw them closer to a personal relationship with their Savior. Offering testimony in this religious context is surprisingly similar to expressing and performing “insight” before the Board. The act of Christian testimony often includes references to previous life, and maximizing one’s bad acts prior to conversion plays an important rhetorical role in highlighting the magnitude of the transformative experience. It can be analogous to the “I once was blind, but now I see” narrative of insight, with the important distinction that the insight is specifically religious. But for the Board, accepting a religious conversion wholesale is a dangerous proposition. The hearing transcripts of Davis, Watson, and Atkins demonstrate various ways in which the Board is uncomfortable with the role of religion in the inmates’ lives: it is out of the Board’s scripted plan for the inmate; it is insincere; or, it is too sincere for the prison environment.

As I show in the narrative, the Board flunks Susan Atkins for ministering to her fellow inmates (literally a captive audience–but offering testimony is part of the mandates of evangelical Christianity); Bruce Davis for preferring the programs he runs in the prison to the official psychological counseling and for having “replaced Manson with Jesus”; and Tex Watson for bonding with a relative of his victims over their shared faith. So I don’t think what’s going on here is some sort of bias in favor of Christians.

Instead, it makes more sense to see this through the prism of the postrecession absence of proper rehabilitation and reentry programming. Into the void caused by states’ ineptitude and austerity stepped organizations that retained their funding base, and it’s not particularly surprising that, in this deeply religious country, many prison ministries are religious.

Back in the 1990s, I remember talking to a prison reentry pioneer in Israel who explained that he’d partner with anyone who offered a positive path of redemption: a secular kibbutz, an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva, a general contractor offering construction jobs, whoever had something to bring to the table. And I think it’s a great approach–provided that people like Mark Janny, who want their reentry without a side helping of accepting Jesus as their personal savior, have a choice.

Delta in Prisons and Disturbing Staff Vaccination Rates

As many of us experience despair and frustration with the virus’ persistence and wonder what fresh restrictions, closures, and infighting 2021 will bring, here’s a glance at how this has played out in California prisons. As per CDCR data (now compiled for your convenience, in collaboration with the COVID in-custody project, on this blog) CDCR has 159 new confirmed cases in the past 14 days, for a rate of 160 per 100,000. For comparison, CA has a rate of 258 new cases per 100,000 in the past 14 days. There are three new outbreaks: SOL (3) PBSP (11) and PVSP (9). A major outbreak is occurring at SCC (111. cases.) Against this backdrop, CDCR as a whole has a net population increase of 42 since last week (presumably jail transfers.)

Before talking about what is going on, let’s take a glance at the vaccination status. The vast majority of the incarcerated population is incarcerated – just a bit over 50% of the staff is, and no sign that anyone – Judge Tigar, the Governor, the Attorney General – has plans to require vaccination (for comparison’s sake, my workplace, like all campuses of the University of California, requires proof of vaccination.)

Vaccination status for incarcerated people and staff at CDCR as of August 3, 2021. Source: COVID in-custody project on this blog.

It’s important to exercise caution when talking about this. We are hearing again and again that this new plot twist, robbing us of our way of life, is a plague driven by unvaccinated people and the solution is to vaccinate. Newspapers are fomenting an enormous amount of outrage against the unvaccinated and, with everyone’s nerves already frayed, it’s easy to view this group as a monolith. I worry a bit about this facile story; it turns out that, in Israel, half of the infections are among vaccinated people and the government has started offering a third booster to older people, which suggests that the vaccine’s protection wanes over time. Still, given our quaratinist approach to managing healthcare in prisons, it’s hard to argue with the fact that the virus does enter prison from somewhere, likely through staff, and that the rates of people refusing to take a free, accessible, and medically proven prophylactic among staff are significantly higher than in the general population. As the UCLA COVID Behind Bars Data Project has shown, this is a disturbing nationwide trend:

Source: UCLA COVID Behind Bars Data Project

What we’re seeing is no more than what has been the case since the beginning of this: I’ve documented again and again the ways in which the problem with COVID management has been the staff, particularly custodial staff. Just like the Governor has demurred about the scale of releases that would protect elderly, infirm people from COVID, he has demurred about requiring staff to vaccinate. A recurring theme at the Plata hearings has been the effort to treat staff with kid gloves, consult experts on methods of gentle persuasion, congratulate CCPOA for the simple act of even deigning to show up at the case management conferences–in short, do anything except impose a state mandate. The Attorney General has put so many of his employees to work on opposing releases and relief, in the Plata and San Quentin cases, that one might ask if anyone’s even been tasked with considering the legality of a CDCR vaccine mandate.

It’s hard not to be cynical about this when we hear that CCPOA is the largest organizational donor to Newsom’s anti-recall campaign, just recently cutting him a check for $1.75 million (for a total of $4.1 million) after receiving bonuses. CCPOA has been a major political player in California for ages, and has been actively striving to become a political force again even though its traditional issues have become muddled (crime rates are low and the discourse about criminal justice has shifted.) I want to be clear about two things. First, I oppose the recall and will personally vote against it. I think the alternative is much worse than Newsom–even as I find myself unmotivated to donate or volunteer to help the person who presided over the worst prison medical disaster in U.S. history. Second, we have no proof that CCPOA’s support of his campaign is directly related to the waffling about vaccine mandates (and is far more closely tied to bonuses for custodial staff.) But at the very least, given how much we know about how CCPOA treat their enemies, this suggests that CCPOA perceive Newsom as an asset. Also, remember – Newsom desperately needs the CCPOA’s support as he loses ground in the recall battle. So, even though I’m not saying that this is payoff for his staff vaccination policy (or non-policy,) it almost certainly means we won’t be seeing a vaccine mandate.

This might be what CCPOA rank-and-file members want, but it’s not what they need. Nationwide–and in California–staff infection rates are considerably higher than the rates in the general population (in California, almost twice as high.)

The story of CCPOA’s engagement with this crisis is, therefore, complex. The union is completely politically captured, for sure; it does not defend the rational interest of its members, for sure; but “rational interest” and actual interest are not the same thing. In evidence everywhere are COVID denialists who accept their diagnosis only when it’s much too late. Because nobody has collected reliable data on political opinions among prison guards, we can only guess how much of this reluctance among prison staff reflects the wider phenomenon of Trumpist prevalence within law enforcement. If it does, I expect the chances of them changing their minds even as their colleagues fall ill are probably similar to the chances of Newsom, now their political protégé, protecting them from themselves through a vaccine mandate.