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California: Prison Industry Board Not Exempt from Civil Service Rules

In response to the California Prison Industry Board’s request for an opinion, the Attorney General’s office concluded that while the Board may create a personnel system separate from the state’s constitutionally-protected civil service system, sufficient evidence had not been advanced by the Board or the state legislature to justify a wholesale departure from the civil service mandate for the Board’ s non-prisoner employees, which number around 700.

The 11-member Board administers the Prison Industry Authority (PIA), a state agency operating under the auspices of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The PIA’s purpose is to develop and operate industrial, agricultural and service enterprises modeled on business practices in the private sector, while providing training and employment opportunities to CDCR prisoners. The PIA employs approximately 6,000 prisoners statewide – about 4 percent of the total CDCR population. Prisoners who work in PIA jobs earn wages, typically around $100 per month, that far exceed those earned by prisoners employed in non-PIA jobs.

By statute the PIA is supposed to be a self-supporting entity, with revenues from the sale of products and services intended to cover all of its operating costs. The PIA sells many of its products and services directly to the CDCR, such as meat, milk, coffee, peanut butter, furniture and eye glasses. The PIA also binds books and makes license plates.

The Attorney General’s office analyzed the extent to which the Board – which, by statute, has “all of the powers and [does] all of the things that the board of directors of a private corporation would do” pursuant to Penal Code § 2808 – can operate, in regard to employment and personnel matters, outside the state’s civil service rules. In particular, the Attorney General considered whether Penal Code § 2809, which purports to carve out an exemption to civil service rules for the PIA’s non-prisoner employees, can override the civil service mandate in Article VII of the California Constitution.

Relying on state Supreme Court precedent, the Attorney General’s office held that in the absence of reasonable findings supported by substantial evidence, it can not. Also, because the legislature had failed to make factually supported findings when it enacted Penal Code § 2809, the PIA could not override the state’s civil service system for its non-prisoner employees.

Source: Opinion of Edmund G. Brown, Jr., California Attorney General, No. 07- 404 (April 9, 2010)

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Related legal case

Opinion of Edmund G. Brown, Jr., California Attorney General