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California Prison Guards Overtime Doubles to $277 Million

California Prison Guards Overtime Doubles to $277 Million

The total California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) guard overtime pay in 2005 of $277 million was twice that of 2004. CDCR's 30,000 prison guards averaged $72,000 for the year, gaining about $15,000 each in overtime pay. But the number of guards annually earning over $100,000 quintupled to 2,400, based upon dramatically increased overtime pay. 182 guards at San Quentin State Prison, or about 1 in 5, took home more than $100,000. The highest paid CDCR guard, John Mattingly at High Desert State Prison, grossed $187,000, including $114,000 in overtime.

"These revelations, dug out of the state controllers office by the San Diego Union-Tribune, hit me hard in the belly", said State Senator Gloria Romero. "Reform has been slow in coming, and I would say largely its nonexistent."

Elaine Jenning, CDCR spokeswoman, tied the growth in overtime to the growth in the prison population. However, the prison population has stagnated at about 165,000, being effectively capped there by the fixed number of beds.
Another blame factor was the brief closing of CDCRs training academy, where a neophyte with a G.E.D.-equivalent becomes a guard in 16 weeks. The academy hopes to graduate 3,700 in the coming twelve months.

The guard's contract also foments overtime cost growth. Overtime is first offered to the most senior guards, who earn the highest base pay, thus disproportionately skewing overtime pay rates. Another factor is sick leave. When one guard calls in sick and another is summoned, he, too, can declare that he is sick, and get a full day's pay. Thus, sickness often results in several guards being paid for the job of one.

Yet another driver for overtime costs is the practice of bed-vacancy-driven recidivism wherein parole agents (guards union members) violate enough parolees to keep about 1 in every 4 CDCR beds filled. At San Quentin, beds were created for up to 500 parole violators by cramming bunks onto the floors of cell blocks, spaced 12 inches apart. This created extra posts for guards, but it didnt create any guards to fill the posts. The result was an overtime bill at San Quentin of $1 million per month, which explains why 1 in 5 of its guards broke the $100,000 pay level in 2005. (These beds were later eliminated by order of federal Judge Thelton E. Henderson when he declared such housing conditions unconstitutional during a tour of San Quentin in February 2005.)

Early retirement also increases overtime. The reduced retirement age for guards in their latest contract permits a guard with 30 years in to retire at age 50 with 90% of his pay.

In addition, CDCR gives fitness pay ($130/mo.) for taking an annual physical, cost of living adjustments for high-rent areas (e.g., San Quentin) and rattlesnake pay (bonuses to work at isolated desert prisons).

Recent court orders to improve healthcare may increase medical guarding costs. And the absence of rehabilitation -- Governor Schwarzeneggers now apparently hollow call to cut the prison population 10% -- is also swelling the need for guards. The extant guard shortage notwithstanding (about 8% statewide), Governor Schwarzenegger recently proposed building two more prisons, which would require 2,000 additional guards. That should absorb the training academys output and ensure continued overtime costs in the years to come.

Source: San Diego Union-Tribune.

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