Out-of-state prison costs soar

Jan. 26, 2010


The price tag for California’s out-of-state prisoners has jumped in three years from $20 million in late 2006, to $630 million in 2009-10.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) as well as the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) addressed rising out-of-state prisoner costs in a recent hearing by the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review.

California was ordered in 2006 by the federal government to relieve the overcrowding in California prisons, which at the time, was nearly 200 percent of planned prison capacity, according to Scott Kernan with the CDCR. The recent final federal order was issued Jan. 13, 2010 by a three-judge District Court panel requiring a cut in prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity within two years — a reduction of approximately 40,000 inmates.

In 2006, citing severe overcrowding in California’s prisons, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an emergency executive order allowing the CDCR to send California prisoners to out-of-state prisons. The order waived the usual state competitive bid process. In the first year, the CDCR moved 1,000 prisoners to five different out-of-state prisons under a contract with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), creating another state bureaucracy according to Assemblywoman Audra Strickland.

The cost to move, house,  feed, clothe and treat 1,000 prisoners in 2006 was $20 million. The proposed 2010 budget includes $630 million to care for 10,468 out-of-state prisoners.

Paul Golaszewski, a policy analyst with the LAO addressed the committee regarding the CDCR’s existing budget as well as its request for additional funds. Golaszewski broke down the costs of the out-of-state prisoners to $63 per bed, per day at four of the prisons, and $72 per bed, per day at one facility. Golaszewski stated that in the daily cost however, was not included the travel and oversight costs by the seventy CDCR employees charged with traveling monthly to each of the out-of-state prisons to monitor California’s prisoners.

California’s in-state prisoner costs run $50,000 per prisoner per year; however, out-of-state prisoners cost $23,000 per prisoner per year. Members of the committee attempted to get ferret out these budget inequities but were unable. Kernan did offer that the $23,000 figure is based on the overcrowding figures and the $50,000 amount is based on the prison plan design costs. The LAO does not have a base number for calculating the cost of California’s prisoners, according to Golaszewski.

At issue was not only the expanding budget, but that the CDCR does not use the state’s mandatory competitive bid process for contracting out-of-state prisons.  Assemblyman Juan Arambula expressed great concern during the hearing that the CDCR three years later, was still not using or even proposing to use the competitive bid process for contracting with the out-of-state prisons. He repeatedly asked CDCR representative Kernan to explain if California was getting the best deal possible without using the competitive bid process. Kernan referred him back to the governor’s emergency order. Kernan said that since the competitive bid process takes seven to nine months from beginning to end, the CDCR cannot spare the time as they must have the ability to move very fast “to pick the cheapest and best product” for the prisoners. He defended CDCR’s choice of CCA for the out-of-state prison contractor as “they had the right price and the inventory” available for California’s prisoners.

Assemblyman Dave Jones concurred, “The emergency can’t run forever as it happened some time ago,” and instead suggested that the Legislature put constraints on the governor’s emergency powers through a bill.

Both Assembly members De La Torre and Audra Strickland questioned Kernan whether the CDCR will be firing in-state prison employees since at least 8,000 prisoners have been moved out-of-state. They asked Kernan to break down the costs of the 70 prison employees who travel out-of-state as well as why prison oversight is needed when the out-of-state prisons are staffed appropriately. Strickland suggested that the CDCR could find a way streamlining bureaucracy and stated again that she did not understand the need for additional staff just because the cost of the out-of-state prisoners is one-third less than California’s.  Kernan explained that out-of-state staff/prisoner ratios are far below that of the CDCR.

Arambula asked Kernan how California can have “an emergency year after year,” and why the CDCR does not have the time to employ more customary bidding procedures.  Kernan explained that since California has not been able to build more prisons to add capacity, overcrowding is still at an emergency level in the state.

With growing frustration, Arambula said, “It is apparent that the CDCR has grown accustomed to operating outside of the rules in what looks like a sweetheart deal.”

De La Torre added, “We don’t write blank checks,” and concluded that the emergency made it necessary to act quickly but, “we’ve been down that road a few times over the last few years.”

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