LOS ANGELES: Facing scandals about prisoner treatment and the prospect of pay-increase rollbacks due to state budget issues, California's prison guards have begun an ambitious PR effort to revamp their image.
Aided by PR consultant and political strategist Ray McNally of Sacramento-based McNally Temple Associates, who has worked with the union for about 15 years, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) has created a $1 million push that includes advertising, media relations, and community and political outreach. That budget represents a doubling of the $500,000 the union normally spends annually on such efforts.
The campaign centers on a slogan the union has used for years - that prison guards have "the toughest beat" in the state.
The effort includes a 28-minute video written and directed by McNally that tells the story of a female prison guard who was attacked by an inmate in March in a maximum-security prison. That video, called "Hard Time," has been distributed to lawmakers and media and might be broadcast on cable. The beating will be the focus of upcoming advertising.
The union has created a pamphlet called "In Harm's Way" about the dangers of working in prisons, as well as fliers featuring a picture of the female guard shortly after her attack.
"The only time you hear about anything that happens behind the walls is when there are allegations of abuse or riots or escapes," union spokesman and VP Lance Corcoran told the Los Angeles Times. "We're reaching out to bring the reality of the job to the public, and so our members see that somebody is standing up for them."
"This is really just an effort to say there is another side to this story and the news media is not telling it, so we are going to tell it ourselves," said McNally. "You watch the news or read the newspaper, and you never read about officers being assaulted by inmates, even though, on average, nine correctional officers a day are assaulted inside California prisons."
The campaign also involves community programs, such as an effort to fingerprint school kids, donations to groups that aid victims, and scholarships. The union has about 31,000 members and is considered one of the most politically influential in the state.