By D. Razor Babb
Licensed clinical social workers provide a valuable and integral service to the inmate population in California prisons. With so many prisoners in need of clinical psychological counseling or simply just need someone with a clear and analytical mind to talk to, the need for these professional frontline workers is of paramount importance.
The caseload of a social clinician has risen from an average of about 170 patients to over 1200; this, without any raise in pay or COVID bonuses. Correctional officers received 3 COVID bonuses over the past months (years) of the pandemic. Social workers’ supervisors received a substantial pay increase as well, while in the trenches clinicians (who do the same work as their bosses) have gotten zero.
Besides the lack of reasonable compensation, clinicians point out that patients aren’t getting appropriate and much needed mental health care. Staff shortages are responsible for the increased workload with no relief in sight.
The union that represents clinical social workers, The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Workers, is the largest trade union of public employees in the U.S. A 1,000-signature petition has been gathered in an attempt to increase pay and increase staffing. Letters to the Coleman court (that oversees medical care issues in the California prisons) have been submitted, with no result.
Talks of a walkout, contacting the media, or other group action have been discussed. Fear of retaliation prevents some (or many) clinicians from complaining outside licensed social workers (at Kaiser hospital for instance) are paid $40,000 more for similar service, with far fewer patients.
It’s a widely held belief that these workers in the prison system are greatly underpaid and underappreciated while serving an extremely vital function.
Razor Babb is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison.