Report 2002-101 Summary - July 2002

California Department of Corrections


A Shortage of Correctional Officers, Along With Costly Labor Agreement Provisions, Raises Both Fiscal and Safety Concerns and Limits Management's Control


Our review of the California Department of Corrections' (department) ongoing fiscal problems revealed:


The largest prison system in the United States, the California Department of Corrections (department) is responsible for controlling and caring for more than 157,000 inmates who have been convicted of serious crimes or admitted to the State's civil narcotics program. About 23,000 custody staff, including 20,000 correctional officers, are responsible for supervising inmates, which often requires that positions be covered on a 24-hour basis. Unable to hire enough correctional officers to meet its prisons' needs, the department often uses costly overtime hours to cover for the shortage of officers. During the first half of fiscal year 2001-02, the department spent more than $110 million in custody staff overtime--already $36 million more than its budgeted amount of $74 million for the entire fiscal year. This adds to the department's fiscal problems, which, as we reported in our 2001 audit, resulted in a budget shortfall of over $200 million for fiscal year 2000-01. During the period we reviewed as part of our current audit, the department would have had to hire an extra 3,200 staff to work the hours it assigned as overtime to current custody staff. Therefore, if the department could fill its unmet need for officers, it would significantly reduce its fiscal problems.

Although hiring more correctional officers would ease its fiscal problems, the department faces difficulties in attracting and training enough correctional officers to fill its unmet need. Though the department was most recently operating its academy at full capacity, at the current pace of recruiting and training, the department may not fill its need until sometime between the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2009, depending on correctional officer attrition and the department's budget for training new correctional officers. The department's inability to attract and train sufficient numbers of cadets impedes the flow of new correctional officers into the department. Thus, the department needs to be creative in increasing its supply of correctional officers by exploring opportunities to attract more qualified applicants and increase the capacity of its academy to train them, at least until supply catches up with demand. At the request of the Legislature, the department has reviewed several options for increasing the number of new correctional officers, such as operating temporary academies at additional locations. However, the department also advised us that to date it has not been able to secure additional funding to implement any of these alternatives. If it determines that increasing the supply of correctional officers is not feasible, the department should be realistic in its budget and plan for the overtime hours it will require to cover its unmet need. In the meantime, some prisons can somewhat reduce their use of overtime hours by increasing their use of intermittent officers, who work on an hourly basis to fill in for officers who are absent or to cover other unmet needs.

Also, because excessive overtime can raise health and safety concerns, the department should attempt to even out the amounts of overtime that correctional officers work by assigning academy graduates to prisons experiencing high rates of overtime. For example, the California Institution for Men incurred overtime that was 71 percent higher than the average of all prisons from July to December 2001. Nonetheless, this prison received an allocation of only 5 cadets, whereas Wasco State Prison, which incurred overtime that was 60 percent lower than the average for all prisons, received an allocation of 18 cadets. The department can also address health and safety concerns by monitoring the amounts of overtime that individual correctional officers work. For example, one correctional officer averaged 167 hours of overtime each four-week work period of 168 hours between July and December 2001, the equivalent of working a double shift the entire six months.

Further, in its Institutional Vacancy Plan (vacancy plan), the department intentionally keeps about 1,000 correctional officer positions vacant and uses the funds saved to make up for shortfalls in its budget. The department achieves more savings because it has been unable to hire additional officers or because it does not always consume the full salary budgeted for each correctional officer, for example, as when an officer out on disability receives a reduced salary. However, these savings are not sufficient to meet the budget shortfalls related to underbudgeted full-time and intermittent officer pay and overtime. As a result, the department uses funds from other sources, such as funds not spent due to vacant positions for noncustody staff, to help make up the difference.

As it begins to make up for its shortage of officers, the department should monitor the amount of overtime that officers work and consider filling relief officer positions in the vacancy plan. It should also reassess the number of budgeted full-time positions at each prison and decide whether reallocations are warranted based on the actual correctional officer hours spent to operate each site.

Certain provisions of the new labor agreement between the State and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) increase the department's fiscal burden and limit management's control. Ranging from salary increases and enhanced retirement benefits to seniority-based overtime, some of these provisions were included in the prior labor agreement, but many are new to the labor agreement that was ratified in February 2002. The department estimates that the annual cost of provisions in the new agreement will be as high as $300 million a year by fiscal year 2005-06, the latest year for which it has estimated costs. Focusing on costs related to correctional officers and including the entire term of the labor agreement, we estimate that the department's annual costs for eight provisions of the labor agreement will eventually amount to about $518 million. Further, several changes in the provisions related to sick leave have likely resulted in additional overtime to cover for correctional officers' increased use of sick leave. Finally, a provision related to how post assignments are made limits the department's ability to assign particular individuals to posts of its choosing.

The department has input into the collective bargaining process but does not control the negotiations between the State and CCPOA. Rather, the Department of Personnel Administration (DPA) negotiates with employee unions on behalf of all state agencies. Although the DPA provided us information and some documents related to the bargaining process, its chief legal counsel informed us that various California statutes protect the following information as confidential:

Citing the importance of protecting the integrity of the collective bargaining process, the DPA director informed us that he was not willing to waive the privilege of confidentiality over the information. However, he did provide us a letter that presents the DPA's perspective on the collective bargaining process that led to the new labor agreement between the State and the CCPOA, including why the DPA chose not to support key department concerns. We include this letter in Appendix C of our report. In general, the DPA director indicated that the State's goal is to enter into long-term agreements that promote stable employer-employee relations without causing disruption in the workplace. Additionally, he said that effective collective bargaining can rarely be achieved as the result of taking back salaries, benefits, or working conditions that employees already enjoy. He believes, therefore, that expiring collective bargaining agreements provide a rough baseline from which bargaining generally begins. In addition, the director indicated that the DPA balances the State's overarching goals against the preferences of departments as the negotiation process unfolds. If a union will not agree with a state proposal, he said that the DPA weighs the value of the proposal against the consequences that can result from intractable bargaining, such as prolonged periods without contracts, disruption of services, and low morale. Finally, in providing perspective on the new agreement, the DPA director pointed out that the parameters of the negotiations were determined from the outset by statutorily expressed policies.


To reduce its use of overtime, the department should do the following:

Once it can attract more cadets to the academy than its budgeted positions, the department should pursue funding for additional correctional officer positions it will need in order to reduce its reliance on overtime. Until the department has enough correctional officers to meet its needs and incurs only unavoidable overtime, it should be realistic in its budget and plan for the overtime it will need to cover its unmet need.

To reduce health and safety risks for its employees, the department should do the following:

To better match the supply of correctional officers with the demand for correctional officers that use of overtime hours indicates, the department should consider assigning its academy graduates to those prisons that experience the highest levels of overtime. For example, if it has too many qualified candidates to fill a class, the department could give preference to candidates willing to go to the 10 prisons with the most overtime.


The department generally agrees with the report, and appreciates our recognition of the challenges facing the department in terms of the correctional officer staffing shortage and fiscal ramifications of the recent labor agreement. The DPA believes that the agreement with the correctional officers is not unique and that no department of state government has a greater level of managerial control or more tools for managing its workforce than the department. The DPA also presents some amplifications or additional information related to its position on various matters that we discuss in the report.