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California: Failure to Maintain Relevant Data Renders CDCR Unable to Effectively Monitor and Manage its Operations

In September 2009, the California State Auditor, responding to a request from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, submitted a report to assess the effect of California’s rapidly increasing prison population on the state budget. The report found that in the past three years, while the adult prison population had decreased by roughly 1 percent, expenditures by the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) had increased by almost 32 percent, and at $10 billion now represent about 10 percent of the state’s total General Fund expenditures.

Despite its huge (and ever-increasing) drain on the state’s coffers, the CDCR is unable to determine, because it fails to maintain and use a variety of basic information management tools, the influence of various factors – such as overcrowding, vacant employee positions, escalating overtime costs, an aging prisoner population and lengthier prison terms due to sentencing under the state’s “three strikes” law – on the costs of its operations.

Some of the audit’s highlights: In fiscal year (FY) 2007-08, the average annual cost of incarceration was $49,300 per prisoner. Over 65 percent of that total was to cover housing, security and support costs; just over 26 percent covered health care, while barely 5 percent went to cover the costs of education, vocational and other rehabilitative programs.

The total annual costs varied significantly across institutions, from over $58,000 at high security prisons and about $42,000 at general population facilities for Level II and III prisoners, to around $38,000 at camp institutions. Prisons with specialized medical and mental health units, such as the California Medical Facility and California State Prison at Sacramento, were the most expensive, with average annual costs totaling $83,300 and $80,200 per prisoner, respectively.

Female prisoners, representing less than 10 percent of the total CDCR population, had higher health care costs but lower housing, security and support costs than their male counterparts. The average total costs were $51,405 for female prisoners versus $49,171 for male prisoners.

Custody staff overtime costs increased significantly over the past five years, from $152 million in FY 2003-04 to $431 million in FY 2007-08, an increase of $275 million, or 184 percent. Some of this increase (about $88 million) was attributable to a 26 percent raise in custody staff salaries – the maximum salary for a prison guard increased from $58,600 as of June 2004 to more than $73,700 as of July 2007, boosting the maximum overtime rate from $41/hour to nearly $52/hour.

However, even after accounting for salary increases, the cost of overtime for custody staff was still more than twice as much in FY 2007-08 as it was in FY 2003-04. Some of this increase was due to higher costs of filling vacant staff positions (totaling 1,200, or about 5 percent of the total number of approximately 25,000 authorized guard positions as of June 2009). The audit determined that due to the costs of benefits and training, hiring new guards to reduce overtime would actually increase the CDCR’s total costs.

Source: California State Auditor Report 2009-107.1

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