Department of Corrections Orders Lockdowns to Save Money, But Will It End Up Spending More Instead?

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The state Department of Corrections is conducting a lockdown today at eight prisons, something it intends to do for one day each month until next June in an effort to save money on labor costs. Inmates must stay in their cells except during meal times, obviating the need for some employees, according to the DOC. But will the move actually save any money? California implemented furloughs for its prison staff in 2009. The result, according to a state report: the "savings are illusory."

That's in part because some prison jobs simply have to be done, such as those connected with inmate health care, according to the October 2009 report by California's Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes (see pdf of report). So when some employees took their furlough days, the prisons had to pay overtime for others or hire private contractors. Consequently, the state actually ended up spending "tens of millions" of dollars more on prison health care.

Paul Wright, editor of the national publication Prison Legal News and a former Washington state inmate, points out that prisons must also have employees guarding cellblocks and facility perimeters, whether there's a lockdown or not. That's true, says Dan Pacholke, the DOC's deputy director of prisons.

Still, Pacholke says some security and health-care staff can be cut on furlough days without having to resort to paying extra for replacements. For instance, he says, while the prisons will continue to provide emergency care on those days, they can minimize the number of people carrying out routine appointments.

Many of the staffers staying home, however, will be those performing less crucial functions, like teaching GED and chemical dependency classes and leading work crews.

Pacholke says he doesn't know yet how many employees will be furloughed on any given day, but guesses maybe five to 10 percent of the prison staff. Those are small numbers, and Pacholke says he can't say what it will mean in terms of cost savings. Nevertheless, he says, "we're confident this will save money."

 
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