California's prison system faces a cut of nearly 6,000 personnel positions-a reduction that, if approved, would account for nearly six in every seven positions that are on the block throughout state government.
As budget writers hunt for ways to save money, they are looking at the labor-intensive correctional system, where 60,000 prison employees make up about 70 percent of the agency's total budget.
The proposed staff reductions of 5,854 "personnel years" for the 2008-09 fiscal year that begins July 1 are contingent on legislative approval of the governor's plan to release of 22,000 inmates statewide. The prisoner-release order – which applies to releases of "nonserious, nonviolent, and non sexual offenders" is still pending in legislature
"To achieve the budget projections, there needs to be a significant reduction in staff," said Seth Unger, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). "We believe that many of these savings would be achieved by eliminating vacant positions and offering early retirements."
In the event of additional layoffs, the task of cutting positions would go to the CDCR human resources department. CDCR estimates that laid-off positions would include custody staff, correctional officers, and parole agents.
The Department of Personnel Administration's deadline for state departments to submit a reduction plan is March 1. However, until a consensus is reached by the legislature on the prisoner reduction plan, both the corrections midyear cuts proposal – which calls for an immediate redistribution or elimination of 200 positions – and the 2008/2009 proposal, which makes up the 5,854 cuts, will remain suspended. Both reduction packages are subject to significant change as next year's budget is hashed out in the coming months.
"This proposal will achieve short-term budget savings in this budget year, said Unger. "The long term savings will be achieved by implementing the governor's comprehensive prison reforms."
Lance Corcoran is a spokesman for California Correctional Peace Officer's Association.
"We've seen these types of drills before," he said. "There are rumors of cuts and layoffs which make an already difficult working environment even more difficult. And ultimately they do not come to pass."
Corcoran said that California generally has a little over eight inmates for every correctional officer. He called the eliminated positions figure of 5,854 a "number plucked from thin air."
"Corrections are in daily dialogue with the Governors office, but I don't know that ‘dialogue' means they are communicating," he said.
A proposed pay raise of five percent to correctional officers is still on the table. It comes the DPA's "last, best, and final" offer for correctional officer contracts last fall, and is awaiting legislative approval. The contract negotiations began over a year before legislative talk of prisoner release.
Responding to the Governor's recent proposal to grant prison guards a 5 percent pay increase, Corcoran said, "This particular budget seems to have been written by someone suffering from multiple personality disorder."
"We don't know what to think. They're hiring on one hand and eliminating on the other."