The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has some issues with Governor Brown’s proposal to give an extra $395 million to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The LAO Monday released their analysis of the new governor’s CDCR budget–at least, the portion that takes millions out of the General Fund to address a “structural shortfall” at the prisons department. Over the past few years, it seems, the CDCR has exceeded its allocated budget (another way to look at it is the governor and legislature have low-balled what it actually takes to operate the department). According to the LAO:
“the department typically notiﬁes the Legislature of a shortfall after the additional expenses were incurred and generally after the ﬁscal year ended. Thus, the Legislature has little choice but to either approve additional funding or authorize the transfer of funds from other program areas to cover the shortfall.”
Another example of less-than-transparent budgeting, according to the LAO, is the CDCR’s propensity to “free up” money by taking it out of rehabilitation and substance abuse programs and using it for security costs.
Governor Brown this year has asked for additional money for the CDCR, in an effort to make up for past mistakes in estimating the budget. The proposal is an apparent effort to be more transparent and realistic about what CDCR spends. But in their report, the LAO seems to be saying it’s still not owning up to the agency’s true budget.
First, here’s what Governor Brown says he wants the money for:
- $266.5 Million is for correctional officers’ salary. In the past, the budget for salaries has assumed that officers are earning amounts at the midrange of their possible pay. That’s not accurate: it takes somewhere around four years to get to the top of that range, and many more officers than estimated are already there.
- $55.2 Million for transporting inmates to medical facilities. For complicated medical problems, inmates have to be taken to hospitals and facilities outside of prison walls. And that transport process costs money, more than the $66.5 million allotted last year.
- $35.7 Million for correctional officer overtime. Brown says the amount allotted for OT hasn’t been adjusted since 2000 and doesn’t reflect current salaries.
- $20.5 Million is for legal expenses. Like settlements, attorney fees, and expert witness fees.
- $17.3 Million for vacant beds. Yes, there are unoccupied beds in the prison system, kept to allow changes in inmate housing needs. These “swing beds” are not accounted for in the per-inmate calculations for housing costs.
What does the LAO say the governor is missing?
- Previous projected savings that have not been achieved. Such as $292 million that the CDCR said they’d save last year in “personnel costs” but didn’t. The budget assumes that that money will be made up for in this coming year, but the LAO points out there’s no plan to achieve those savings–and that such savings may not be possible “due to difﬁculties in reducing security stafﬁng absent policy changes to reduce the inmate population.“
- Any sort of guarantee that this budget’s for real this time. What’s to prevent the CDCR, if its gets this requested $395 million, from going over its allocated budget again, this time after having been given more?
- Evidence that the CDCR has exhausted its cost-saving potential before asking for more money. Such as with inmate transport to medical facilities, has the CDCR explored a revision to its policy that calls for two escorts?
Full report available here.