Dissecting California’s Corrections Budget

Big Increase In Compensation Spending Per Inmate

California under Governor Jerry Brown’s third and four terms continues to reduce its prison population, a welcome reversal of the steep population increase resulting from determinant sentencing legislation Brown signed in his first term. According to the governor’s proposed budget for FYE2018, the state prison population will have dropped an impressive 21 percent since FYE12, from 163,000 to 128,000 inmates.

But compensation costs per inmate grew 31 percent over the same period:

For FYE2018 Governor Brown proposes spending $11 billion on Corrections out of the General Fund, the largest portion of which is on salaries of $4.8 billion for just 56,500 employees (see Schedule 4 here). Pensions and other benefits costs add another $2.8 billion* of cost, for a total of $7.6 billion. To put that figure into perspective, $7.6 billion is more than twice the General Fund amount proposed for the California State University system that serves 460,000 students, nearly four times the number of inmates.

Corrections Department salaries and benefits alone will capture more than twice as much of California’s General Fund as California State University.

Because the number of Correction Department employees declined at less than half the rate at which the inmate population dropped since FYE2012, the budget projects one employee for every 2.3 inmates, down from 2.6. Salary boosts combined with sharp increases in pension and other benefits spending to raise compensation costs per employee to $135,000.

California’s prisons are tough places to work and we should all be grateful for the brave men and women who serve the Corrections Department. But because of the “waterfall” nature of California’s General Fund, every dollar spent on Corrections compensation is a dollar not available for discretionary programs such as CSU. To put California’s Corrections Department compensation spending into perspective, $7.6 billion is nearly five times the revenues of the one of the country’s largest private prison corporations. For the benefit of students and others adversely affected whenever the state spends less on discretionary programs, legislators should make sure Corrections Department spending is efficient.

*Based on the ratio of Correction Department salaries to total Executive Branch salaries (see Schedule 4 here) applied to budgeted state pension, retiree health care and active health care costs (see page 128 here).