VANGUARD INCARCERATED PRESS: Proposed Prisoner Pay Increase Research

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By John L. Orr

In December 2022 Inmate Advising Council (TAC) Warden’s meeting, a brief revelation from Chief Deputy Warden’s Meeting, a brief revelation from Chief Deputy Warden (CDW) B. Holmes confirmed rumors the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) proposed changes to raise inmate pay scales. The only figure quoted was 80¢ per hour minimum and the current forced labor positions, such as kitchen, porter and yard crew workers will now receive compensation.

A request for further comment from the CDW for this article went unanswered.

Since June 2014, I have personally called attention to the stagnant pay scales via articles and mailings to assemblyman, activists and a senator. No pay raise for inmates in over 40 years, and canteen price hikes averaging 79% in the past 20 years is oppressive.

Finally it appears the CDCR is doing the right thing. About 95% of inmate pay is given back to the prison via canteen purchases/profits. A raise almost pays for itself and restitution withholding skyrockets, bringing credit to CDCR’s enterprising research proposal. However, a closer look at the hourly wage model is in order.

Many higher paid inmates positions (clerks, education, etc) produce less income than kitchen or yard crew workers. Why? The nature of the workplace. Those toiling in higher-paying positions are at the mercy of staff supervisor attendance at the job site. Routine meetings, IST and personal leave use by staff shuts down the program. A full work week is a rarity.

On the other hand, kitchen/yard workers, porters and other crucial employees attend mandatory work schedules to keep the prison running efficiently. Critical workers routinely receive maximum hours paid while higher-paid positions work abbreviated schedules, thus, make less due to missing supervisors. A better alternative to hourly wages is a monthly salary for each job/skill level.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP) uses such a system. In this progressive atmosphere, every inmate receives compensation, including the marginally employable ADA/EOP worker. This compensation model allows for step raises and monthly bonuses.

I labored in the BoP for 10 years and found their monthly salary compensation concept far superior, and more equitable than hourly wages. An additional side benefit to staff: No more daily tabulation of hours or end of month efforts in this less labor intensive model.

During the CDCR’s research of the proposal to elevate inmate pay scales, perhaps including experienced prison workers’ input via polls, suggestions and on-site forums is a wise, progressive consideration. A fact-finding junket to a federal BoP facility seems a logical approach.

My last paid job at Lompoc Penitentiary as a library clerk and evening class facilitator paid $75-100 per month in 2002. Currently, my CDCR library clerk position pays an average of $6 per month while kitchen/yard workers routinely make 2-3 times my earnings.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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