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Overcrowded, Understaffed California DOC Pays $471 Million in Overtime

A combination of prison overcrowding and a 10.9% staff vacancy rate in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) resulted in $471 million in overtime being paid in fiscal year 2006-2007 ? a 17% increase over 2005-2006. More than 8,000 CDCR employees collected at least $25,000 each in overtime, with 1,423 pocketing over $50,000.

Some employees? overtime earnings were truly eye-popping. Thirty-six, including guards as well as medical staff, received over $100,000 in overtime. Nine of the top ten overtime recipients in 2006 worked more than 1,900 hours beyond their 2,080 regular hours. Nurse Jean Keller accumulated no less than 2,584 overtime hours, earning $156,000 on top of her $74,000 base pay. Folsom prison guard Patro Lagula worked 2,314 hours of overtime, adding $126,000 in excess pay. Six CDCR employees earned more than Governor Schwarzenegger?s $212,179 salary.

These absurdly high overtime figures were cited in a February 7, 2008 report by the Legislative Analyst?s Office, which recommended against increasing the pay rates for CDCR guards. The Governor?s office has proposed a 5 percent raise for state prison employees.

Driving the excessive overtime are 4,000 staff vacancies ? half for guard positions. Under union rules, overtime is offered first to the most senior guards, thereby shifting costs upward due to their inherently higher base pay. Additional factors driving overtime include the federal court-appointed healthcare Receiver?s demand for more medical staff, which has resulted in an increased number of guards needed for hospital visits and medical escort services.

Another major cause of overtime is guard sick leave, which has resulted in costs spiraling from $69 million in 2003-2004 to $152 million in 2005-2006. The increased use of sick leave has led to more overtime because a modification to the guards? contract permits them to work four days, call in sick (without a doctor?s excuse) on the fifth, and then work at overtime rates on the sixth day. The state is trying to jettison this abused provision in its current contract negotiations with the California Correctional Peace Officers? Association (CCPOA), the union that represents the state?s prison guards.

The CDCR is trying to build its way out of its chronic overcrowding problem. Doubting that will work, a three-judge federal court panel has been convened to consider capping California?s prison population. In order to dodge the bullet of a court order to reduce the CDCR?s population from 172,000 to 135,000 to alleviate overcrowding, the state proposes spending $7.4 billion to build 53,000 more beds, most within existing prisons. Of course such an expansion would further exacerbate the staff shortage problem and hence increase overtime costs even more.
The only viable way to address the staffing shortage comes from the CDCR?s plan to transfer 8,000 prisoners to out-of-state private prisons, a move the powerful CCPOA fiercely opposes.

This leaves the various parties in a bitter stalemate. The guards object to using out-of-state transfers to remediate their insufficient numbers; the federal court wants immediate relief from overcrowding, not ?by the year 2014? as proposed in the state?s $7.4 billion building plan; the California Legislature?s 2007-2008 budget does not include funding for a $300 million increase in guard base salaries estimated to flow from a new contract with the CCPOA; and the federally-appointed healthcare Receiver wants more staff to ensure healthcare for CDCR prisoners meets constitutional standards. Meanwhile, the Governor, via his patently political Board of Parole Hearings? no-parole policies, continues to jam the prison system with over 27,000 term-to-life prisoners by arbitrarily denying them parole.

The CDCR receives 130,000 applications for guard positions each year and the prison guard academy is presently graduating 388 cadets per month; however, this is still not enough to cover staff retirements let alone stem the growth of overtime. It is plain the state doesn?t want to cut its prison population, which would result in mass prisoner releases. But if the overcrowding problem isn?t resolved, the federal court may cap the CDCR?s population at a level sufficient to provide constitutional healthcare.

Perhaps California bureaucrats and politicians, fearful of voter backlash, are secretly hoping that the federal court will solve the CDCR?s excessive overtime and chronic understaffing problems by ?doing their dirty work? for them, by capping the state?s prison population. That way they would enjoy the benefit of reduced costs while taking none of the responsibility.

Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, California LAO report titled ?Correctional Officer Pay, Benefits, and Labor Relations? (Feb. 7, 2008)

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