Six months ago, California Governor Gray Davis signed a sweetheart deal with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), giving them a 33.76 percent pay raise over the next five years and granting prison guards looser sick leave, even as the rest of the state is suffering a $24 billion deficit. It seems that everyone except the California Department of Corrections (CDC) is being asked to tighten the belt a notch or two. In fact, the new deal will cost the state an extra $680 million.
A growing number of critics are calling foul on the contract, arguing that it is little more than a political payback. The CCPOA spent over $2.3 million four years ago to get Davis elected. CCPOA has not yet endorsed a candidate in this year's election, but has already contributed $251,000 to his re-election.
Clearly, hard working prison guards should be able to take legitimate sick days without fear of retribution. Unfortunately, the new contract has placed severe limits on wardens' ability to discipline sick leave abusers and that is a recipe for disaster.
According to a recent CDC audit report, sick leave jumped 20 percent in the four months after the new contract was signed. The related cost of overtime (other guards must work overtime to cover the shifts when colleagues call in sick) has also jumped by 20 percent to a cost of $58.4 million annually.
In stark contrast, sick leave at the California Highway Patrol increased less than one percent. And even in the face of heightened security obligations and terrorist threats, the California Highway Patrol's overtime expenses have risen by only seven percent—a third as much as it did among prison guards!
What's worse, Davis and his advisors can't claim that they didn't realize that the sharp increase in cost would occur after the new contract was signed with the prison guards. Last year, the non-partisan California State Auditor, conducted an audit of the CDC. The audit found that the CDC suffered from "poor fiscal management" and an "exorbitant amount of overtime and sick leave." It suggested that the CDC could save an estimated $17-29 million by simply reducing sick leave to reasonable levels.
Prison guards do have a rough job. They work among the state's worse criminals in less than perfect conditions. However, the new prison guardsï¿½ contract goes too far and is more lucrative than police officersï¿½ contracts in some of the state's largest cities.
According to reports from the state controller, dozens of correctional officers will double their salary in overtime and at least 80 CO's will earn $100,000 or more! Another report by the state auditor found overtime to be so lucrative in the CDC that 5000 CO's made more in annual pay than their supervisors. One officer at San Quentin logged 1731 hours of overtime in 11 months (almost 40 hours of overtime PER WEEK), grossing an extra $69,831. He stands to make $125,079 this year—$1,824 more than the head of the Corrections Department.
With benefits and pay like these, where do I sign up?
Geoffrey Segal is director of privatization and government reform at Reason Foundation