State correctional officers and some other employees of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are in line for salary increases, additional retirement fund contributions and other benefits expected to cost the state more than $1 billion over three years.
The state currently operates five prisons in Kern County. These include the California Correctional Institution at Tehachapi, North Kern and Kern Valley state prisons in Delano and Wasco State Prison. In California City, the state has leased a prison from CoreCivic since late 2013, but will end that lease next March.
A two-year tentative contract negotiated by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association on behalf of nearly 26,000 employees must be approved by union members and the Legislature before being submitted for final approval by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
According to a summary published by CalHR — the California Department of Human Resources — the tentative agreement with CCPOA would provide general salary increases of 3% effective July 1 and another 3% on July 1, 2024.
State job classifications represented by the union include correctional officers, non-supervisory correctional counselors, fire captains at state prison facilities and some employees of the state’s adult parole division.
In addition to the salary increase, retention differentials of $10,000 would be payable in two payments for Bargaining Unit 6 employees at R.J. Donovan State Prison, Salinas Valley State Prison and California State Prison at Sacramento (sometimes called New Folsom).
All permanent full-time Unit 6 employees on the job as of Nov. 1, 2024, would receive a one-time contribution to a new 401(k) plan and beginning with the January 2025 pay period, the state would make a monthly contribution to that retirement savings plan equivalent to 1% of the employee’s monthly base salary. This would be in addition to the state’s continuing contributions to the California Public Employees Retirement System.
Employees on pay status at the time would also receive $1,200 mental health and welfare differential payments in November 2023 and November 2024.
New employees would be eligible to receive a $5,000 location incentive bonus, payable in two payments, upon graduation from the CDCR training academy if they accept an appointment at one of 13 institutions. Of those, Kern Valley in Delano is the only qualifying institution in Kern County and only under certain circumstances.
Other provisions of the agreement cover various pay differentials, travel and business expense modifications, leave and post assignment procedures.
According to the tentative agreement, the union’s contract ratification process will be completed by Sept. 14.
In an initial assessment of the CCPOA contract and agreements for 11 other state bargaining units that expired June 30 and are pending ratification, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office on Aug. 29 found fault with the agreement.
The assessment is intended to assist the budget committees of the state Llegislature in their review of the agreements, the LAO report notes.
Referencing compensation studies and vacancy rates, the LAO said the 2022 Unit 6 study prepared by CalHR uses flawed methodology and was based on the same methodology that found in 2013 that state correctional officers were compensated “far above market.”
The LAO presented other metrics to assess the state’s ability to recruit and retain correctional officers, including a vacancy rate today that is lower than in 2013 and the fact that the correctional officer training academy turns away more than 90% of qualified applicants.
However, the LAO report noted that there is some evidence of slightly higher staff turnover.
“For example, the average Unit 6 member has fewer years of service today, fewer employees are at the top step of the salary range today, and the average Unit 6 member is younger today than they were in 2013. To some extent, this may reflect recent rates of retirement.”
According to recruitment information published on the CDCR website, “correctional officers enjoy competitive pay up to $107,000 per year with available incentives.”
The number of Unit 6 employees who live in Kern County was not immediately available. However, staffing is tied to inmate population.
Currently, five facilities in Kern County house just over 12% of the state prison population — down from about 15% a year ago. Overall, the number of inmates in institutions dropped by about 5% in the same time — from a total of 98,485 to 94,109, including inmates at the leased facility in California City.
The number of state prison inmates housed at Kern County facilities dropped from 14,965 on Aug. 31, 2022, to 11,623 last week, largely due to the June 30 closure of Facility D at CCI and a major reduction in the inmate population in California City.
The state plans to end its $32 million lease with CoreCivic for that facility in March 2024. As of Aug. 30, only 200 inmates remained at the facility compared to 1,934 a year ago.
At CCI, the population dropped from 2,918 a year ago to 1,653 last week. The closure of Facility D, a medium custody prison that opened in 1967, in June was the second deactivation at the institution. CCI closed a minimum custody facility in September 2021. Much of that facility was originally built in the 1930s to house female prisoners.
Those closures were part of the governor’s plan to reduce the number of prisons. In addition to the CCI facilities, the state has closed the Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy and the California Correctional Center, one of two prisons in Susanville. It also plans to close Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, one of two prisons in Blythe, by March 2025.
The inmate count at the three San Joaquin Valley prisons in Kern has remained fairly stable. Kern Valley saw a drop of only five inmates from a year ago in population reports released last week. North Kern saw an increase of 271 inmates, and Wasco State Prison’s count increased by 77.
In a statement in June, CDCR spokesperson Alia Cruz said the department is working diligently to limit the impact of facility closures on staff. She said efforts include connecting impacted staff with an available position elsewhere in the system, providing options to transfer both within and outside of impacted counties and identification of employees for redirection to neighboring prisons where there are existing vacancies.
Other prison employees are represented by other unions and most also have tentative contracts pending ratification.
Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist and former editor of the Tehachapi News. She lives in Tehachapi and can be reached by email: [email protected].
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