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California Guards Bust Budget

by W. Wisely

A report released November 27, 2001, by the Bureau of State Audits showed the California Department of Corrections (CDC) spent $87 million more than their annual budget allotted, according to the Sacramento Bee. That money was used to cover excessive overtime and sick leave for prison guards, the report found. What guards consider as an inalienable right, the unnecessary overtime and sick leave was the single biggest reason for a nearly $200 million budget deficit within the CDC.

The Bureau discovered that the prison system could have saved taxpayers $42 million by simply filling more than 1,500 vacant positions rather than paying overtime, the newspaper noted.

However, guards consider overtime one of the perks of their job. Local guards' union leaders in Lancaster and Mule Creek prisons confided that a certain amount of overtime was included in negotiations with administrators. The union stewards, who declined to be identified for this article, said there would be work "actions," such as slow downs and sick outs, if overtime was eliminated. That explains why CDC spending plans do not total the same as the budget approved by the legislature, the report concluded.

However, Edward Alameida, director of the Department, said the Bureau failed to give credit for improvements the staff has made. "This report, by failing to recognize the extraordinary efforts of the staff who have been tirelessly dedicated to improving our fiscal practices, will be a severe blow to staff morale," Alameida told the Bee in a written statement.

CDC cheerleader Russ Heimerich also said the incredible amount of sick leave guards use is easy to understand given how dangerous and stressful their jobs are. "We have people being injured and people more susceptible to illnesses created by, or exacerbated by stress," he complained to the newspaper. His explanation was quickly echoed by California Correctional Peace Officer's Association (CCPOA, the guard's union), vice president, Lance Corcoran, who told a reporter, "The stress is unrelenting. The fact that employees use a benefit that's awarded to them, and that's a negative issue, I fail to understand."

Maybe the CCPOA and the CDC can understand why prison activists find it hard to believe that nearly boiling mentally ill prisoners to death; setting up fights between warring gang members; paying thugs to beat, stab and rape prisoners they don't like, all the while earning more than a school teacher, is just wrong. "People in prison are dying because there's no money left in the budget for adequate health care, and guards feel sick leave is an entitlement to abuse like vacation time?" Joe Harrington, spokesman for FamilyNet, an advocacy group on behalf of the families, friends and loved ones of people in prison, said when interviewed by mail.

The CDC told the Bee it has been trying to recruit more guards, going out of state and to college job fairs. They claim, however, that the high cost of living in California and the stigma of being a prison guard make recruiting difficult. Consequently, it's business as usual. "We don't want to spend as much as we do on overtime," Heimerich told the Los Angeles Times , "but we're not going to leave the gun towers empty." Fat Chance, even though most California maximum-security prisons are surrounded by lethal electric fences, union contracts forbid eliminating the redundant gun tower jobs.

Sources: Sacramento Bee ,Los Angeles Times

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