California’s voters will soon consider two ballot initiatives that aim to reduce the state’s unsustainable spending on prisons. The cost of jail is punishing – and not just for the prisoners. Incarcerating an inmate runs an average of $47,000 a year.
That figure certainly is not chump change, but the folks behind bars are not the reason that the finances for California’s prison system are falling apart. Rather, the state’s unionized prison guards – specifically, their excessively generous pay and benefits – are to blame. Reforming the Golden State’s broke – and broken – correctional system should start by taking on the prison guards.
The crisis in California’s prisons was cast into stark relief last year when the U.S. Supreme Court found that the state was violating the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The high court ordered the state to release tens of thousands of prisoners or find another way to ease overcrowding in order to prevent “needless suffering and death.”
It’s not as if the prison system lacks sufficient funds. Roughly 10 percent of the state’s general fund – or about $9 billion a year – is devoted to Corrections and Rehabilitation expenditures. And California doesn’t just spend a lot on its prison system in aggregate; California’s per-capita prison costs are also 54 percent higher than the national average.
How could California spend top dollar on its prisons – and yet still subject inmates to inhumane living conditions?
Six-figure salaries for some prison guards provide a big chunk of the answer. Cadets at the prison-guard academy make about $3,000 a month. Once they get out, they can look forward to starting base salaries of up to $65,000. Prison guards get time-and-a-half whenever they clock in more than 40 hours a week. According to columnist Allysia Finley, one sergeant collected more than $200,000 in salary, overtime and bonus in 2010. And his income wasn’t even tops among his peers.
Guards can retire at the relatively young age of 55 – and receive 85 percent of their final year’s salary.
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- California Prison Doctors Paid Second-Highest In The Nation (prisonreformmovement.wordpress.com)