Orange County Register; March 09, 2004 At long last, prison reform The state finally seems ready to take on powerful union over pay, cover-ups Is the wall of political indifference to California's very troubled prison system - a barrier erected by the very powerful union that represents those who guard inmates - finally crumbling? Two events late last week indicate that finally, those we elect to manage the state's affairs are giving long-overdue attention to a system beset by skyrocketing labor costs, poisonous labor-management relations, and an evident code of silence about prisoner abuse and other wrongdoing. A legislative committee opened hearings Thursday on the sweetheart labor contract that the administration of former Gov. Gray Davis negotiated with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) - a union that spent millions of dollars to elect Davis governor in 1998. One salient fact that emerged is that the contract is much more lucrative than the administration estimated at the time because of semi-secret provisions. It could cost four times as much as the $500 million estimate. The man who ousted Davis in last fall's recall election, Arnold Schwarzenegger, appointed a blue-ribbon commission Friday headed by former Gov. George Deukmejian to do a top-to-bottom review of the state's youth and adult corrections systems and recommend changes to improve their efficiency and culture. Deukmejian was elected governor on a law-and-order platform in 1982 and began the expansion of the prison system - a background that raises questions in some critics. But he probably has the most unsullied reputation for personal integrity of any major California political figure, which should be reassuring that the review won't be a whitewash.Tellingly, both Schwarzenegger and commission members said they would delve into the code of silence that is the most galling feature of the current system. As the commission was being announced Friday, there were reports that officers at Corcoran State Prison, one of the most troubled institutions, were refusing to cooperate with an investigation of an inmate death.