Inmate overcrowding and an increasing number of staff vacancies in California’s prisons are raising overtime costs for the state’s corrections department, which spent more than half a billion dollars last year on overtime pay, said a San Francisco Chronicle analysis of payroll records. The surge — a 35 percent increase from the agency’s overtime bill in 2005 — comes as the state plans a major expansion of the prison system that legislators hope will improve conditions and satisfy federal judges who may impose a population cap on the system and release thousands of inmates early.
The Chronicle found that almost 15 percent of the department’s 56,000-member workforce earned at least $25,000 in overtime in the last calendar year — more than eight times the amount paid to the average state worker over the same period. Some experts believe California’s prison expansion plan may not be workable, given the department’s staffing problems. “If you don’t even have the people and officers you need right now, how can one expect that you will suddenly have enough if you greatly expand the system?” asked Michael Jacobson, director of the Vera Institute of Justice, a think tank in New York. He is a member of an expert panel assembled by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration this year to study California’s prison system and make recommendations for improvements.