Run Away Prison Costs Hurting Our State

August 16, 2010

Sam Blakeslee – photo by Dennis Eamon Young

NOTE: John Laird and Sam Blakeslee are both candidates for the 15th State Senate District. CalCoastNews asked Laird and Blakeslee to give their opinions on the prison system in California. In a previous set of opinions, the two candidates gave their view on economic issues facing our community.

OPINION By Sam Blakeslee, Ph.D.

When the recession hit our nation and state revenues collapsed, Sacramento leaders were confronted with a series of dire budget scenarios. In 2009, the Legislature passed the largest tax increase in the nation, hiking taxes by $11 billion. And yet this historic tax increase still was not enough to bring the state’s budget into balance. I voted against that tax increase because I believed spending and budget reform was needed.

Following years of unsustainable overspending and a complete failure to save for the tough times, the Legislature was confronted with the challenge of finding billions in cuts. Some of these cuts and reforms were obvious – for instance the elimination of wasteful boards and commissions where political appointees could earn six-figure salaries for only nominal work. But some of the cuts and reforms require political will. |

Corrections spending totals 10 percent of the budget and is an area that has proven almost intractable to systematic reform. While other areas of the budget are being scaled back, we continue to see troubling examples of wasteful overspending in our budget.

Some argue that the answer is to early release prisoners. Last year, there was a proposal to free 40,000 dangerous criminals, including those convicted of such crimes as human trafficking, violent child abuse and stalking. I joined with law enforcement in strong opposition to these efforts. Rather than jeopardizing public safety, I believe the answer is reform.

There are tremendous waste and inefficiencies in the correctional system. Two examples are bloated bureaucracy and prisoner health care costs.

The last decade has also seen a sharp rise in costly Corrections bureaucracy. Between 200 and 2009, Corrections added nearly three thousand administrative positions – a 77 percent increase. During the years of 2005 and 2008, prison administration costs jumped by 105 percent. This is despite the fact that the number of in-state offenders actually decreased by 5 percent since 1999.

Substantial savings can be achieved by cutting unnecessary bureaucracy, eliminating redundant facilities and staff at the Division of Juvenile Justice, parole reform, and reducing medical costs. We should also be taking immediate steps to address overcrowding by beginning the prison construction already authorized and funded under AB 900, legislation we passed in 2007.

Additionally, California currently spends $17,000 per inmate on health care, more than any other state, and three times what the federal government spends. These exorbitant costs are due in large to intervention by the federal courts imposing outrageous increases in per inmate spending on health and medical care. These mandates have produced a highly inefficient system for delivering medical care.

Prison health care costs have more than tripled since 1997. According to a 2010 study, California spends in excess of $2.4 billion annually just on healthcare mandates for inmates. In comparison, Texas spends $550 million annually on inmate health care, roughly one-third of what California spends on a per inmate basis.

Texas achieved these lowered costs by partnering with area universities. Under the Texas model, the responsibility for health care delivery is transferred to the universities. The correctional department monitors the program to ensure a mandated level of care is provided. Since the university partnership was implemented, the cost per inmate per day has never exceeded $10. In comparison California spends more than $40 per inmate per day.

If California were to only reduce per inmate health care spending down to the federal average, we could save nearly $2 billion. This savings alone could more than fully restore education cuts made to the art and music programs, High School Exit exam instructional support programs, Class Size Reduction programs, children’s oral health assessments and school safety programs.

Sam Blakeslee was elected to the Assembly in 2004. The Legislature’s only scientist, Blakeslee created E3, the Republican Task Force on Energy, Environment and Economy, a group dedicated to bipartisan innovation and problem solving. His legislative efforts have principally focused on government reform, clean and renewable energy, agriculture and open space, and job creation.  During his tenure in the Assembly, Blakeslee has earned consistent A ratings from the California Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and been praised for his environmental leadership by the Sierra Club and California League of Conservation Voters in their annual scorecards.

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Why is it when talk of cutting coast that the prison system seems to be the first targeted?

Allow me to correct the Governor, as he reefers to Correctional Officers as, “guards”

Something that is occuring throughout the prison system is causing a very dangerous situation for the Correctional Officers.

Seems that one way to help cut cost in the penial instatution system is too cut out the old wood and bring in younger officers at a lower pay rate scale, not to mention that if this tactic forces an officer to quit before his retirement reaches maturity, then, more money saved!

The moral is being effected because of this unfair policy, which is causing a dangerous work environment for the Correctional Officers.

One’s who are nearing retirement are being writtin up with unjust displanary right up’s and punished needlessly.

For an example, if one should miss work because of illness, or commit minor infractions, they are brought up before a disciplinary board where they can have their pay cut by 5% for one year, be assigned to details that change on a daily basis, so they never know from one day to the next where they will be assigned to work, and of course it’s the in the least desirable positions.

Thus far Correctional officers have been working without a contract for the past five years.

Their over time has been taken away, along with paid holidays, not to mention having to work three days each month without pay,’the furlough system”

Society ask that criminals be locked up and dealt with.

A police office only has to deal with a criminal a few times, the arrest and maybe through a court proceeding.

Not so the Correctional officers who are having to deal with some of societies worst for the length of their sentence.

Correctional Officers have to go through the same training as a police officer and infect are recognized as peace officers.

They go to work day in and day out and are required to conduct themselves in a highly professional manor, even when cussed and spit upon, or to have urine and human feces’s thrown on them.

When they leave their work shift, they then have to go home to their families, and put all that aside and switch gears.

If that were not bad enough, now we have a Governor who wants to it seems punish the Correctional Officers because of their union going against him during the election.

Exempt from the furlough work days, the cut in over time pay and paid holidays are the California Highway Patrol, which is by the way, the State Police.

They are responsible for investigating all crimes that have anything to deal with the state or on state property.

If the Governor is truly serious about reducing cost related to the prisons, then perhaps he can start by sending all the illegals back to the country from which they came, along with a bill to be reimbursed for all the expenses that have been spent on housing, feeding and caring for their medical conditions..

Seems we are the only country that has such a relaxed immigration policy, and to our own determent.


The unions demand these obscene wages and their lobbyists fund the politicians.

The prison administration tell us that they have to pay these obscene wage/benefit packages so that they can attract qualified candidates. What exactly is a qualified candidate for the correctional officer?

What’s required for a prison guard?…Someone who can walk and chew gum at the same time?

Who cares if they’re IQ is less than room temperature?

They’re prison guards, not rocket scientists. What a waste of money!!

I don’t blame the unions, they’re just another corporation despite their nonprofit (and I think nontaxed)status. The blame goes squarely on our elected officials that take their campaign donations, smile at their constituents and stick it to the taxpayer… a nicely spun gentle manner.

Sam Blakeslee wants to keep as he says dangerous felons in prison but does not want to have to pay the cost of warehousing them. Well Sam, perhaps you could define for us dangerous felons? Would that be the 690 people serving life sentences under California’s draconian Three Strikes Law for simple drug possession that YOU support? Or is it those dangerous shoplifters, all 353 serving life sentences under Three Strikes. May be it’s the 181 people sentenced to 25 years to life for receiving stolen property? What is odd to me is that anyone convicted of murder, rape or child molestation will be released years before the drug users, shoplifters and those lifers who received stolen property! Why in the world do you diminish what I consider dangerous felons with those convicted of petty larceny? Want to cut prison costs? Fix outrageous laws and have the guts to stand up to the pro prison lobby and demand fair and sensible sentencing!

“During the years of 2005 and 2008, prison administration costs jumped by 105 percent. This is despite the fact that the number of in-state offenders actually decreased by 5 percent since 1999.”

Does that even make any sense? I’d say Blakeslee DOES have a clue here. The unions and overall excess spending to line the pockets of the medical practitioners are clearly bankrupting us. Vinny is absolutely correct about the prison guards salaries and ridiculous benefits. I also know a CO that works at the Men’s Colony. He has a GED and no higher education but earns an engineers salary and will retire next year at 50 with a 99K annual pension and full medical benefits except a $5 per month charge for his dependents.

I am concerned that neither candidate is addressing the over crowding or why we have more people (I won’t necessarily say citizens) incarcerated than any other country on the planet. The 3 strikes law is a problem, it doesn’t work and non violent offenders are being sentenced to mandatory 20 to life sentences. The non violent drug dealers are a problem, unless a person is manufacturing meth or trafficking in very large quantities of drugs we should be sending them to rehab not prison. Many IV drug users have HIV and AIDES, they are demanding an absorbent cost in medications. If they are non violent or too sick to be violent, release them. Keeping the elderly offender locked away after they have run out steam is a problem, release them.

Next Step, There is a very high rate of recidivism. Once a person has a jail or prison record it is almost impossible to find gainful employment. They go back to a life of crime to feed and shelter themselves and their families. Give them gov jobs like maintaining parks and streets etc. Obviously their previous crimes will have to be considered before they are placed in work programs. Expunge records of lessor offenders with the understanding that the record will be reactivated if they should re-offend. That would all be a good start, IMO.

P.S. White collar criminals can go to hell. They should all have to deal with their prison records. Factories have no problem hiring white collar criminals.

My brother in law is scheduled to retire this December from the Dept of Correction as a CCPOA member, less than 30 days after his 50th birthday. He will receive a $96,000 per year pension plus life time benefits. On the Monday following his friday retirement, he will report for duty to the same desk he has occupied for years, the only difference being he will be a Retired Annuitant and paid his previous sallary under a new classification – bringing his total yearly salary / pension compensation to $192,000.

He has never, ever in his life stepped foot into a college classroom.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, just like him.

Couldn’t we simply shine up the state parks, which would increase tourism revenue, which would make us all rich and taxable, which would make the cost of coddling felons more palatable?

“Corrections spending totals 10 percent of the budget and is an area that has proven almost intractable to systematic reform. While other areas of the budget are being scaled back, we continue to see troubling examples of wasteful overspending in our budget.”

“Rather than jeopardizing public safety, I believe the answer is reform.”

“There are tremendous waste and inefficiencies in the correctional system. Two examples are bloated bureaucracy and prisoner health care costs.”

IMHO, these thoughts are pretty well put, and the only realistic answer. If you work for the state and are paid one of these bloated salaries, of course you will disagree. But if you are an average wage earner working in the private sector, these bloated salaries and benefits are breaking us.

Time for some real reform in both the courts and the prisons. Prisons are penal institutions not country clubs, those serving time for crimes commited deserve to be treated with respect but so does the tax paying public.

The root of the problem is the no good correctional officer’s union. They are the the ones who should be locked up for all the extortion they have committed to the rest of us. Why would the prison system want to train the prisoner’s when the felons keep coming back. The more prisoners, the more guards needed. I say we taxpayers should get to vote them a pay cut.

Yeah, maybe, but it seems like the real root of the problem is all the rapers and killers and stealers and burners that we have to keep off the streets.

Growing some spine to address the union will certainly help, but decreasing the number of inductees into Racket’s Country Club is the real answer.

Amen. Its a red flag for me that there are 139 dentists that work for the dept of corrections. The lowest paid dentist makes over 130,000 a year. 35 of them make….wait for it….over 330,000 a year. Then of course there is the pension issue and well why are we taking care of these peoples teeth anyway. Its very hard for non government folks to get dental coverage let alone pay this. If we need to provide dental care to prisoners send them to the dental colleges and let them be the test cases at the schools. They get the coverage and we get seasoned dentists out in the public sector. In fact lets privatize the entire corrections institute. Its risky and other states that have done it are being accused of abusive treatment of there felons. But then who cares… might be a deterrent to crime if the criminals knew they would not have color tv and air conditioning.

Privatize our Correction Institutions so a corporation can earn billions while abusing their contract like what happened in Iraq? Then with all that money they are making they can pour it into political campaigns to make sure they continue to get their contract from their paid for politicians? Here is a quote from Benito Mussolini, “Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power.” “Let us have a dagger between our teeth, a bomb in our hands, and an infinite scorn in our hearts.

Regarding the dentists. There are approximately 170,000 in prison in CA. With 139 dentists, that works out to 1223 prisoners per dentist. They can’t be getting first-class care – maybe emergency care?. And I wouldn’t want to be that dentist. Maybe dental schools could help, but that’s a lot of patients to see.

It is not only prison healthcare that has the corrections budget at 9-12 billion annually. Lets not forget that Three Strikes has incarcerated more NON VIOLENT offenders than violent offenders. At a cost of almost 50k per year to house 1 inmate, Three Strikes needs to be amended, and used only for VIOLENT Offenders. Prison alternatives for drug addicts should also be looked at…The truth is our prisons are FILLED to jam packed because of non violent offenders…as a taxpayer, I want more bang for my buck…our ‘corrections’ system is not correcting anyone-no programs, no viable life skill training, simply warehousing thousands & thousands who will one day be released to our communities…with no ‘corrections’, what do we think these people are going to do? Corrections should be just that, correcting the behavior that landed the person in prison to begin with….not simply locking them in cages with nothing to do…..