CA debates outsourcing inmates

MAY 21, 2010


In what felt more like a night court at times than a Capitol hearing room,with scores of state employees noisily filing in and out during a budget hearing, the Department of Finance, and the Legislative Analyst’s Office were busy assisting the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee with the Governor’s May Revise budget issues.

The state employees were popping up and down, talking and negotiating with one another. At one point, an entourage of fourteen state employees came in and then jumped from their seats and left with the Governor’s representative who spoke to the committee regarding the state capitol repairs request.  A great deal of moral support appeared to be needed at the hearing with so many state employees in tow.

The big-ticket item on the agenda was the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) requesting a myriad of expenditures from an electrical power substation to a workout area at a men’s colony.

David Lewis, deputy director of fiscal services for the CDCR  was complimented by Committee Chair Mark DeSaulinier, D-Concord, for his willingness to work with the Legislature on the difficult budget. Lewis did not balk when the committee adopted the tough staff recommendations cutting Capitol outlay, requiring CDCR budget transparency as it pertains to inmate population, mental health program ratios staffing and mentally ill inmates.

The out-of-state prisons were the subject of a great deal of discussion, as there was vast disagreement as to whether the arrangements save the state money, or cost a premium. DeSaulnier stated several times that it was more costly to send prisoners to out-of-state prisons, but the Department of Finance insisted that the cost per inmate is “significantly less” in out-of-state prisons. A representative from the CCPOA argued that California should not be sending California jobs out of state.

The issue which received the most discussion was local assistance. Currently, the CDCR owes local governments $81 million in back payments for locally housing inmates who should be in state prisons. For inmates sentenced to three years or less in prison, the CDCR prefers to leave them in the local jail facility. Local governments have done this most as a courtesy to the state, but are suffering financially because of the state’s backlogged payments.

Senator Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, said the state should go ahead and pay the local governments what they are owed instead of continuing to drag out payments. The Department of Finance said that the local governments need to be fully funded. DeSaulnier decided to leave the issue open until next week when there can be more discussion with the Senate.

The LAO rejected CDCR requested overtime costs because of declining populations in many state prisons. DeSaulnier asked Lewis if some CDCR facilities can be closed down. “Not likely possible,” said Lewis. “Maybe in the future, such as contracting out for female wards,” Lewis added. “We are continuing to look at those.”

Sen. Gloria Negrette McCloud, D-Chino, asked how many “foreign nationals” are currently in the California prison system. The Department of Finance representative said that 11 percent (20,000) of California’s inmates are undocumented felons. He added that these were undocumented felons, not “foreign nationals,” and he did not know how many “foreign nationals” were in prison in the state.

Every vote was 2-1, with DeSaulnier and Negrette McCloud voting for the budget recommendations, and Harman voting against.

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