Cost savings in California prisons

California is a state in financial crisis. California also has the largest prison population in the country, after unprecedented growth in the past two decades. And California’s cost per inmate is $45,045 compared to the national average of $28,689. This makes California’s correctional system one of the biggest drains on the state budget.

Now, why is the correctional cost so high in California? Well, one fairly significant reason is the fact that California’s state correctional officers make a whole lot of money.

Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages survey shows California is the highest-paying state for correctional officers, employing 40,260 of them in 2008 at an annual mean wage of $63,230, which works out to about $5,270 per month or $30.40 per hour. The national mean salary for correctional officers is $41,340, or $19.88 per hour.

There was a really good opportunity recently to cut back on California’s prison costs through Prop 5, which would have reduced the numbers of specifically non-violent drug offenders in prison. This was defeated following a vicious and mendacious campaign funded by $1.8 million from… the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

That’s right. They not only make the most money in the country by a long shot (38% higher than their highest paid counterparts), they have a union that insures they continue to get it, and that the prisons remain crammed full.

Now, even the union understands that the state has to cut costs, so they’re trying to show that they’re willing to do their part (as long as it doesn’t involve cutting salaries, reducing prison population, or laying off officers).

So they have detailed some cost cutting ideas directly from their members on the California Correctional Peace Officers Association Blog


An officer at High Desert wrote, asking why “tax payers have to be responsible for 100 % of the outrageous medical bills of inmates! We as law abiding citizens have to pay a percentage of our hard earned money toward our medical bills. Why can’t they be held accountable for a percentage of their medical care through some kind of restitution? “

An officer at Folsom tells us that “. . . every morning there is a coach to show a couple of her hand selected inmates how to toss around a ball. You have got to be kidding me!!! I have to pay $250 for my son to play each sport in high school and the state is paying for a coach to show grown men how to play catch, this is crazy. Something is really wrong here.”

Another officer said:
“CDCR contracts out to a private company to provide the packages that inmates receive. But the taxpayers must still pay the institutional staffing costs associated with receiving and distributing those inmate packages. I believe those costs should be picked up by those who choose to invoke or participate in the privilege, not the taxpayers. The contracted vender should have a ‘Handling Charge’ associated with every inmate package processed. The “Handling Charge’ should go back to the State to off-set the costs associated with the staffing required to carry out the privilege. Inmate packages are not a right, they are a privilege. So why should taxpayers be forced to fully fund this privilege?

Thanks for the suggestions and as always, if you have any cost savings ideas, please send your comments to

And these are the people in charge of rehabilitation! Completely clueless about what their job is, unable to see the irony of complaining about costs to taxpayers, and focused solely on what they can get themselves.

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14 Responses to Cost savings in California prisons

  1. gregg hierholzer says:

    I have a family memeber in prison. There is serious waste as everyone knows. And it doesnt’ only stem from a glut of officers, there is a huge amount of administration done. same goes with when an inmate files a 602. How long does/should it take to process that form?

    The CDC should either make rehabilitation legit or take it off their name as most of the rehabilitation projects have been axed. and if you gave inmates something constructive to do other then sit around or walk and talk on the yard you would be surprise how much less you would see them in the medical line getting BS type treatements. They are cluing you clueless folks in that therre is noting better to do with their time. Think about it if you were in their shoes. If you were stuck there and had nothing to do what would you do? Complain probably which they do to, and go to medical because it is something different to do.

    As for his packages, he is an IDIOT, a handling charge, why do you need a handling charges, you already dictate what can go in the package so why do you need to have an officer handle it. get a wharehouse worker who hands them out, nothing different then any other business.

    But also in the defense of an officer working there, they see waste every day, and they should not be shut down by a administrator who has “X” amount of money that has to be spent or we loose it for next budget mentality. I too work a state job and see that stupid type mentality as well, told that we have “X” amount for a budget and if we don’t spend it we lose it. There should be some type of a award system for divisions/departments that initate cost saving ideas.

    i could think of many things that would save money, but i am a peon in a political system. No one ever listens to a peon.

    i do agree though that there are certian costs that i would personally pay to give my family member a better lifestyle in there, and if it meant spending a few thousand a year hell i would be up for it. And i think private insurance should be allowed to cover medical costs for inmates in prison but nothing like that is offered. just a thought or tw.

  2. Lets not forget that Three Strikes has incarcerated more NON VIOLENT offenders than violent offenders. At a cost of almost 50k per year to house 1 in…mate, Three Strikes needs to be amended, and used only for VIOLENT Offenders. Prison alternatives for drug addicts should also be looked at…The truth is our prisons are FILLED to jam packed because of non violent offenders…as a taxpayer, I want more bang for my buck…our ‘corrections’ system is not correcting anyone-no programs, no viable life skill training, simply warehousing thousands & thousands who will one day be released to our communities…with no ‘corrections’, what do we think these people are going to do? Corrections should be just that, correcting the behavior that landed the person in prison to begin with….not simply locking them in cages with nothing to do…..

  3. Duncan says:

    I’ve got to say that I think Prop 5 was ill advised and it was a good thing that it didn’t pass. It’s one thing not throwing people who indulge in an unapproved intoxicant. It’s quite another to start letting people who commit crimes that have a non-consensual participant as Prop 5 would have done.
    I wonder if the people who want prisoners to pay their own way are aware of just how high the unemployment rate is among inmates. Isn’t it approaching 100%? Remember there’s always the guy who writes a book with his extra time, people who participate in the contraband distribution chain, and the occasional convict who manages criminal activity outside of the prison.

  4. Three Strikes Law was passed due to CCPOA – the correctional officers union sinking big $$$ in ads that were nothing more than propaganda, thus ensuring their job security. This Union is just one of the many that are seriously crippling California due to their hold/contributions to those that hold the purse strings…ie politico’s…lets also not forget that they contribute huge amounts of money to VVB- The Victims Vengence Brigade -commonly known as Crime Victims United who also promote harsh, draconian sentencing laws that are misapplied!!

  5. Duncan, most of the contraband gets into the prisons via the guards and prisons ‘free staff’…not visitors! The guards should be searched -metal detector & dog sniffed before going on to their shift for the day…

  6. Duncan says:

    I never said visitors were the primary means of introducing contraband into a prison. I wouldn’t argue that it isn’t mostly guards that bring it into the prison, but at some point the guard turns it over to an inmate. It’s highly unlikely that the guard divides it into retail packages and serves the end users. I really do think I have a good grasp on this one through personal observation. I also wasn’t trying to get you to infer that there were a lot of inmates who participate in contraband distribution. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that there are only a few hundred such prisoner drug dealers in the entire US. But the point is that most prisoners have no source of income. I suppose there are a few elderly prisoners who receive Social Security payments but I don’t see that as really likely because you have to work a total of 10 years at a legitimate job before you qualify for SS. Hmmm, Bernie Madoff probably qualifies to receive a big fat SS check every month.

    Concerning your idea to search each guard before he starts his shift…who searches the guards in charge of searching the other guards? Who says he doesn’t get paid to look the other way? That really is how most drugs cross the border, with some authority being paid to facilitate such smuggling.

  7. Maria says:

    Oh oh! Yes, Mr. Sherman I do have a suggestion for cost cutting.

    Pardon every drug offender in the system who’s in it for possession (and all the additional charges piled on top of the possession) because as the prohibs LOVE to say, no one ends up in prison JUST for possession!

    The burden of cost thing is interesting, in some nations the prison systems are so poor that family must support the prisoner completely or they are relegated to squalor and malnourishment and violence. Food, clothes, medicine, hygiene materials, calm prison section, even a bed or a corner of a room and a blanket. All this unnecessary stuff purchased/rented/bribed by family for the prisoner.

    So, what I’m getting from those suggestions is that the US system is nearing this type of squalor? What? It’s one step away from the cliff of doom!? No! Fear not, the private sector will save it! They’ll find ways to cut costs AND jam even more clients … I mean… prisoners… in there. I hear there’s techniques to sedate you for months on end without muscle atrophy setting in. (I’m a staunch supporter of the private sector and profit … just not in this case. There really is too big a conflict of interest. Though that can be said with government as well.)

    So anyways, a good chunk of the industry is in it for their job security. The end. The more laws one creates, the more felons one creates and the more prisoners there are and probably, most importantly, the less people around to vote you out or be taken seriously in society.

  8. teh smartazz pvnk says:

    Hows that three strikes and your out workin’ for ya Cali. The feds won’t be able to help ya your not a bank so too small to bail. So lock up some more dopesmokers and STFU when they want to open a prison in your backyard.

  9. If your in prison you dont get SSI, period. It is very hard to get SSI when one paroles, in fact. Just being institutionalized is no longer a qualifier. Not all guards are corrupt and security has to start somewhere. If CDCR took the steps to facilitate staff searches…contraband would be significantly lowered- even cell phones- which are supplementing high incomes to the tune of $500-1000 per cell phone. Most inmate families must purchase TV’s, Radio’s, Hot Pots, snacks/food paper, pens, shoes, toiletries, etc as they are NOT provided. The prices are outrageous too. Oh lets not forget winter/summer clothing and fans where they are allowed. Inmates that do not have anyone on the outside -well they do with out-unless they have some type of job that may pay cents per hour.

  10. Servetus says:

    People are sent to prison in the United States as punishment, not for punishment. The idea that corrections officials are there simply to make things worse for inmates has been struck down by the courts on many occasions.

    Forcing an inmate or their family to pay for the inmate’s own incarceration is something the European inquisitions did—while simultaneously presenting the heretic’s bereft family as objects of public charity after their property was seized.

    Historians have universally condemned this greedy inquisitorial practice as immoral and barbaric. It’s no surprise that something as vile as the drug laws gives dominion to uncivilized advocates of injustice who feel compelled to repeat the history of infamous tyrants.

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  12. Windy says:

    Greg, I have had a family member in the county jail. the cost for commissary items is outrageous, about triple the cost of those same items in any store. Sometimes some items are missing from the package, but if you complain about that, they lock your account and you may not order anything else for your “inmate”. If an inmate cannot receive commissary items s/he has only the extremely inadequate and bland food provided at the jail, no coffee, no snacks, no gum; no toothpaste or other toiletries, either. Inmates look forward to commissary delivery every week, getting nothing on that day is disheartening.

    There is no such thing as rehabilitation in most jails and prisons (there are some exceptions, but they are few and far between), instead there is crushing boredom, and such boredom leads to altercations.

    Thanks be to all the stars, my loved one is no longer incarcerated, 71 days was more than too long.

    “Prison Reform Movement”, I so agree with your comments. Unfortunately, complaining about ANYTHING (concerning the jail/prison or its inmate policies) to the media or to elected officials, while a loved one is incarcerated, does absolutely nothing but bring the wrath of the cops and jailers down on the inmate whose family member complained, making the inmate’s life even more miserable.

    Frankly, we should be pushing the idea that prisons and jails should be utilized ONLY for the most hardened violent criminals among us (murderers, rapists, etc.). Restriction of movement (house arrest), fines, community service and restitution should suffice for all non-violent crimes (theft, fraud, etc.) and (as someone else stated on another thread), if the “crime” does not involve violating the rights of an innocent victim, it is NOT a crime, period, and should not be treated as such — vices are NOT crimes.

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