Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration is already considering cuts to corrections officer staffing as well as implementing a 12-hour workday for the officers in response to the shrinking budget.
Prison officials say the savings are necessary and, despite ongoing cuts, the level of security at state institutions will not be compromised.
“No matter how deep those cuts go, we will come up with a way, if necessary, to modify our operations to make sure we don’t jeopardize public safety in any way,” said Lt. Mark Hargrove, spokesman for the California Institution for Men in Chino.
The state needed help from local resources to respond to an August 2009 riot at CIM that left more than 200 inmates injured and destroyed housing for more than 1,000 inmates.
Chino Mayor Dennis Yates has long been concerned about the security impacts to his city from CIM, which is surrounded by houses and businesses. Yates said the ongoing budget cuts compromise community safety.
“I know that the state’s hurting for dollars, but public safety is paramount,” Yates said. “You just don’t
cut public safety, especially for the tried and true criminals you have to supervise.”The state correctional officers’ union has already voiced alarm over the proposed cutbacks.
“We’re very concerned that they’re starting to look at eliminating positions which will significantly impact the safety and security of the institutions and the public at large,” said Ryan Sherman, spokesman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
Sherman notes there are about 2,000 vacant positions for corrections officers throughout the state prison system.
Fred Stevens, the association’s chapter president at the men’s prison in Chino, voiced similar concerns over potential budget cuts to security staffing.
“Of course, we’re concerned it will affect security of the institutions, especially with all the riots we’ve had in the past few years,” Stevens said. “To make staffing cuts right now, after we’ve already experienced these types of things, we’ve got to be very careful, if that’s what the plan is.”
The Norco institution has seen a spate of violent incidents in recent weeks among inmates.
The most recent, on Oct. 10, sent four inmates to the hospital with stab wounds and sent 15 prisoners to the Chino prison under administrative segregation.
Joe Baumann, the correctional officers association chapter president at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, said he understands the need to cut costs in the budget, but he says typically the state has gone after rank-and-file corrections officers instead of administrators and middle management.
“Right now, the department is so top heavy because of that,” Baumann said. “The problem becomes you’ve got fewer people supervising the same amount or more of inmates and none of the duties or responsibilities are going away. It’s just more people speeding up what they’re doing in order to get done with an eight-hour day.”
Proposed implementation of the 12-hour workday for corrections officers would be tested at three prisons – High Desert, Pelican Bay and Salinas Valley – before it is adopted throughout the state, officials said.
Any implementation would not take place without discussions with labor, officials said.
Staff costs make up about 80percent of the institutional annual operating budget, according to a report by corrections officials.
Costs associated with staffing are by far the greatest expense that the state corrections agency incurs, according to the report.
Despite the shift, corrections spokesman Paul Verke said some eight-hour schedules would remain necessary to ensure that security would stay sufficient to operate safely and that the current daily operation has minimal changes.
In August, corrections officials also proposed a 3percent employee reduction – about 1,100 positions – to save $80 million to $100 million.
With the gubernatorial election on Nov. 2, the corrections officers association has endorsed state Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat.
Corrections officer union officials are sour over Republican candidate Meg Whitman‘s pledge to exempt public safety officers from her proposed pension reforms – but not state corrections officers.
“(Brown) has told us, and he’s been clear with the voters, that public safety is the main function of government and he would make sure the security and safety of the prisons and the public would be paramount,” Sherman said.
“He’s talking about making sure the facilities are safe and the public is safe, where Meg is talking about creating jobs in other states by shipping inmates to other states in private prisons and reducing the number of inmates in California.”
A Whitman campaign statement said she is in support of sending inmates to other states with unused prison capacity, although her long-term solution would be to build new prisons in the state and to oppose early.
Source: Daily Bulletin