by John E. Dannenberg
Faced with losing $1.4 million in the following year, the City of Folsom, California, closed its 14 year-old, 380 bed minimum security prison and laid off most of the 70 city workers on June 30, 2003.
Known as the Folsom Community Correctional Facility (FCCF) [one of 16 such CCFs contracted out by the California Department of Corrections (CDC)], the city prison (separate from the two state prisons in Folsom) used prisoners to sort recyclables from city garbage. Beyond merely losing money, FCCF wilted under a scathing audit by the State Inspector General exposing major security, health and management deficiencies.
The six-month long audit revealed "deteriorating buildings, broken equipment, lax supervision of inmates, visitors and volunteers, and easy access on the part of inmates to tools and supplies that could be used as weapons.... The main front door of the facility cannot even be locked." The confidential report, obtained by the Sacramento Bee, "leveled devastating charges against the way the prison was run by its director, Wally Smith." Indeed, FCCF initially refused to release any files to auditors or to even grant them entry to conduct the audit, until the Inspector General obtained court orders.
The audit showed Smith worked from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with an extended lunch break. Although his base pay was $104,265, last year he took home $163,922, including an unexplained "bonus" of $23,000. He was paid for working on holidays, but co-workers could recall only one holiday he actually worked. His compensation to manage 380 prisoners exceeded that of the warden of San Quentin's 6,000-bed state prison.
Notwithstanding this remuneration, Smith received "the lowest scores ever recorded" in any Inspector General rating. Employees' concerns were ignored. A cook was allegedly selling drugs to prisoners and had borrowed money from one prisoner's wife, but no investigation was conducted. Instead, the cook was fired for serving too many potatoes and losing two cases of sausage only to be reinstated with back pay upon appeal.
The audit criticized broken security cameras, a $600 uniform allowance for a non-uniformed canteen manager, and dangerous conditions for prisoners stemming from the absence of Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspections since 1994. These conditions included 61 reported syringe punctures to prisoner workers and a lawsuit by a prisoner who was pulled onto a conveyer belt and crushed unconscious. Auditors were also concerned that FCCF workers had access to sensitive financial information in the trash, putting city residents at peril of identity theft and burglary. (FCCF officials countered that there has never been such an event documented.)
FCCF, operated under contract from CDC, may have shown a "loss" but after their CDC stipend plus $560,000 from annual sales of recyclables, the books showed the City of Folsom profiting by $1 million since 1996. Hoping to gain yet more money from CDC by lawsuits, the City improperly spent FCCF money to pay attorneys for this effort, the audit alleged.
After the audit, Sacramento County sheriff's department officials, under direction of Folsom City Police Chief Sam Spiegel, were employed to help manage FCCF. The audit concluded that the recycling plant was not cost effective, could not handle current volume and did not meet the state's 55% recycling mandate. Youth and Adult Corrections Agency Assistant Secretary Stephen Green initially reacted to the audit report: "It's fairly likely that we're going to cancel their contract. ... We would cancel every [CCF] contract tomorrow if we could. The programs were supposed to save us money, and they haven't. ... We'd have no problems putting those inmates other places." (Most of the prisoners were shipped to fire camps, where they benefited from recently enacted doubled work-time credits [Penal Code § 2933.3].) The irony is that the $2 million city employee payroll will be replaced by substantially increased costs when the 380 transferred prisoners are instead supervised by higher-paid state prison guards.
Smith, who retired in December, 2003, declined any interviews. City officials said the task of recycling would fall to city residents who would be asked to separate waste into three differently colored bins before being picked up.
Source: Sacramento Bee.
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