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A Modest Proposal on Prison Costs: Reign in the Overtime

For the past 20 years the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice has critically examined the control exercised by special interests group over California's prison policy -- especially the state's prison guards union.   With their ability to spend millions of dollars to defeat political enemies, the guards union has achieved unprecedented success in promoting their agenda and resisting reform efforts.

In her recent editorial, Sacramento Bee editor, Pia Lopez, analyzes the historical influence of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) and their current effect on the state's budget.   More importantly, she also offers a highly creative solution to prison system's out-of-control overtime costs. Here are a few highlights:

  • Of all the factors driving California's budget crisis, none is harder to deal with than the out-of-control costs of the state's prisons...one organization lies at the heart of all the complexities. That is the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
  • ...The union's single greatest victory, however, was its 2001-2006 contracts, greased by more than $3 million in campaign contributions.  That contract increased prison guard salaries out of proportion to other state employees and decreased management's day-to-day control of prisons.
  • ...Today, most prison guards earn more than $70,000 in base pay, not including overtime or benefits.
  • CCPOA members take advantage of sick leave and overtime rules -- sick leave, incredibly, counts as time worked in calculating overtime -- to get an average of $16,000 a year in overtime pay. Last year, this cost the state $471 million in overtime costs (up from $53 million a decade ago), a big contributor to the state's deficit.
  • The corrections budget has gone from 4.3 percent of the state's general fund in 1985-86 to 11.2 percent today. It has steadily displaced spending on higher education. That brings us to the current crisis. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has made proposals that would reduce costs by cutting the prison population by 15,000 and the parole population by 65,000 by June 2010. The CCPOA has resisted these ideas.
  • ...The CCPOA also has been unwilling to do major rethinking of the 2001-2006 contract. The state and the CCPOA reached impasse on a new contract last September. The union has refused formal negotiations since then.
  •  ...The union's leaders and its members, though, surely must recognize this reality, even if they cannot admit it in public: The situation is unsustainable. One way or another, the state must get its prison costs under control -- not just in this crisis but in the long term as well.
  • And in the long run, the union surely stands to lose if it insists on making this a winner-take-all game. Avoiding that will require finding solutions that are both creative and flexible. Here's one possibility, a win-win solution for the union that would save the state a lot of money:
  • Compress the prison work week into fewer, longer shifts -- switching from the traditional eight-hour workday to a 12-hour day.  Prison systems in other states already have gone this route. These states have seen reduced absenteeism and drastic reductions in use of sick leave and overtime, bringing substantial savings. And prison workers like it better, improving morale.
  •  In practical terms, this would mean going to a two-week, 84-hour schedule. One week would be 36 hours (three days on, four days off); the other would be 48 hours (four days on, three days off). Guards would receive overtime pay only if they worked more than 84 hours in a pay period. Sick days no longer would count as days worked.
  • This change could be made now, and would be a multimillion-dollar down payment for beginning real talks on how to reduce prison populations and prison system costs. Similar solutions can be found in other parts of the prisons' operations, if CCPOA members recognize that the days of lavish contracts and unfettered political power are past. The current crisis is the time to chart a way forward to get California's prison costs under control.
     
    California Correctional Peace Officers Association
    Founded:
    1957
    Membership: 30,000
    President: Mike Jimenez
    Web site: www.ccpoa.org
    Campaign contributions for 2005-2008: $20,531,340.96

For a full review of the article see: http://www.sacbee.com/editorials/story/1546740.html

Keywords: adult corrections, Daniel Macallair, interest groups

Posted in Blog, Political Landscape

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