As a California Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) employee, I have had my fill with the statements being made in the media about how the overpaid state employees (prison guards) are draining the state’s budget, and how the poor inmates (convicted FELONS) are dropping like flies due to substandard medical care and brutal living conditions. Allow me to cast some light onto these shadowy areas with my ten plus years of insight behind the walls.
California spends approximately $50,000 a year to house each of our 170,000 inmates. Roughly $12,500 of this is on their “substandard” medical care. In contrast, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spends about $1,400 per veteran. You read that right. That’s nine times more money being spent on convicted felons than on our nation’s veterans. Texas, which ranks second in the nation in inmate population, spends about $5,100 a year, per inmate, on health care. In California, if an inmate has a health complaint, he fills out a form and may be subject to a $5 co-pay, unless it is deemed an emergency by health care staff. If that’s the case, there is no co-pay and he is seen immediately. If an inmate claims a pain level over a 6 (on a scale from 1 to 10), he must be seen immediately by a registered nurse, and scheduled to see a doctor. I don’t recall the last time I heard an inmate claim less than a 6. I don’t know about you, but the last time I went to the ER it took me five hours to get in and cost me 50 BUCKS!
On the educational front, California ranks 29th in the nation on funding per student, and 49th in “student per teacher” ratio. Over the last two years, $11 BILLION has been cut from education. Add to that more than $5 BILLION in proposed cuts over the next two years. I have friends who have told me that their child’s school had to cut the library program due to budget cuts. My own child’s school had to cut the music program, although we still have a library. For now. And the few athletic programs we still have are run by volunteer-coaches, as there is no money to pay someone. The prison I work at has several paid coaches, in addition to a “recreational coordinator”. There is a staff of who knows how many teachers, while my child’s school had to lay-off two. But let us get back to these poor, fragile creatures we lovingly refer to as inmates.
The typical day in an inmate’s life consists of being awoken at around 6:45am for chow. They walk to the dining hall, where they are served coffee and/or juice and a FREE balanced breakfast, that would cost my child $2 at school. They sit and eat breakfast, and socialize with their brethren, for about 15-20 minutes, and on the way out receive their free bag lunch. Then, if they have a job, off they go (the average workday for an inmate is about six hours). If they aren’t employed, they go back to their housing unit until the yard opens at about 8:30 or so. Once out to yard, they have a myriad of recreational choices in which to indulge. Some inmates play basketball or run the track. Others prefer handball or tennis. Less adventurous fellows may choose to throw around a Frisbee or participate in a game of horseshoes. Some simply lay their blanket out on the grass and sunbathe. There are softball tournaments to compete in for prizes (sodas, ice cream, etc.). This scenario is repeated three times a day for a total of about 8.5 hours of daily recreational opportunity, seven days a week. Wouldn’t that be nice?
I have read numerous articles about the state prison guards making outrageous amounts of money in overtime. While it’s true that I did make about ten thousand in overtime one year, what isn’t known is that I didn’t volunteer for a single overtime shift. Due to a hiring freeze and the usual attrition, ALL of my overtime was mandatory because of short staffing. In other words, much like the inmates, I was not allowed to go home after my shift those days. Unlike the inmates, I could not play horseshoes.
Up to this point, I have been “given” three furlough days for a total pay cut of around 15%. That was roughly equivalent to my mortgage payment. I am, however, no longer saddled with that burden as, due to said cuts, the bank has relieved me of that responsibility by taking back my house. The hardest part to swallow is the fact that while I’m losing everything I’ve worked for, the inmates have not had one program or privilege cut thus far. As a matter of fact, they gain new rights and privileges with every new lawsuit. Speaking of lawsuits, prisoner-initiated lawsuits have cost the state more than $191 million over the past six years. How many homeless veterans would that feed?
I hope I’ve opened some eyes as to what really goes on inside the walls of California’s state prisons. Voters have made themselves heard with the three-strikes law and other get tough on crime issues. The people of this state demand justice when one person takes another’s in cold blood. The problem is, once that person is convicted and locked away, he is portrayed as a victim of the system. Suddenly he is guaranteed rights that neither you nor I enjoy. Like the right to instant medical attention (despite what the media says); for free. The right to three balanced meals a day. The right to their own personal TV and radios. The right to buy Ramen soups or Snickers bars or Dreyer’s ice cream. We, as the citizens of this state, need to pull our collective heads out of the sand and see what is going on in this state. We are taking money from our future, our children, to repair the damage these inmates have caused to themselves over a lifetime of drug-abuse and self-neglect. Instead of blaming Corrections staff and other state employees for the budget problems this state faces, let’s take a hard look at what we’re spending to care for and coddle the inmates in California. I’m not denying that basic medical care is a basic human right, but would you rather spend your $40,000 on a convicted child molester’s total knee replacement, or pay a teacher a year’s salary to educate 30 of our children?
So, In closing, let me just ask you this. If prison is such a barbaric, inhumane, insufferable place, why do 80% of them come back after their first term?
If you agree with this article, please pass it on to everyone in your contact list. If you don’t agree, better see a doctor about that bleeding heart. If you commit a felony, you can see one for $5.