CA Prison System May Not be Providng ‘Adequate Mental Health Service’ Because Social Workers ‘Overlooked’ and ‘Undervalued,’ National Association Charges

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California State Prison Sacramento in Folsom. (YouTube)

By The Vanguard Staff

SACRAMENTO, CA – The National Association of Social Workers – CA Chapter said this week it has “partnered” with Social Workers at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to “protest the unfair treatment of Social Workers” in the CA state prison system.

“For years, Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) have been overworked and undervalued at CDCR (CA Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation). They have been passed over for promotions and bonuses in favor of utilizing more expensive Psychologists who do the same job,” according to a statement released by NASW-CA.

NASW-CA maintains to “ensure we retain social workers to provide the prison population with necessary services,” there needs to be “equity in the workplace, just as any other profession,” quoting a court decision that said, “CDCR was not providing adequate mental health services.”

“Working in the prison system is a challenging position, and many Social Workers are leaving CDCR for other workplaces despite their desire to stay and serve this population. This turnover also leaves the inmates, who desperately need mental health services, at a severe disadvantage and puts them at risk of further deterioration,” NASW-CA added.

The group said LCSWs work with psychologists “providing mental health services to the prison population. Both were exposed to the same hazards and working conditions during the pandemic.”

“Yet, psychologists received a recruitment and retention bonus of $15,000 while LCSWs did not. A recent survey of Clinical Social Workers found that 55.9 percent of respondents were looking for other employment, with salary being the top reason (61.4 percent),” charged NASM-CA.

“The Recruitment and Retention (R&R) bonus that explicitly excludes licensed social workers has been demoralizing to LCSWs in the prison system. After years of advocating for parity in their pay, the granting of recruitment and retention bonuses solely to psychologists was particularly disheartening, a blatant denigration of their contributions and commitment, and has understandably created widespread dissatisfaction,” said Rebecca Gonzales, Director of Government Relations with NASW-CA.

The labor association explained the problem is made worse by the “pay differentials between the two professions,” noting social workers are “compensated 33.7 percent and 20.9 percent less at the lowest and highest ends of the salary range respectively compared to Psychologists for the exact same duties.”

In short, the group asserts, social workers make $36,204 less than a Licensed Psychologist at the lowest end and $26,568 at the highest end of the salary range.

“This has been an ongoing level of inequity for 15 years,” noted NASW-CA, adding there are more vacancies with psychologists, and there are about 31,000 Licensed Clinical Social Workers compared to 22,313 licensed psychologists in the State of California, “yet CDCR prefers hiring psychologists despite social workers’ ability and licensure to do the same work.”

Gonzales noted, “There is a longstanding antiquated conception that has retained the notion that psychologists are needed when the reality is that the behavioral healthcare industries have actively worked to bring more parity across the provider fields to assure adequate resourcing of the workforce.

“The higher vacancy rate is directly related to the simple fact that more positions have been created for psychologists in CDCR, not necessarily related to any need for specific services.”

NASW-CA said “there is a disparity at CDCR headquarters where over 30 Psychologists work, while there are only five Social Workers. This power dynamic has also resulted in a lack of opportunities for social workers to receive promotions and increased pay. The lack of opportunities for promotion for social workers is a clear imbalance and an injustice as it does not offer opportunities for the workforce to develop and sustain into higher level roles.

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