David Beck-Brown - Writer - The Fritter Machine

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David Beck-Brown

  Political Cartoon by David Beck-Brown
(Political Cartoon by David Beck-Brown)

The Fritter Machine

By David Beck-Brown

A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) Newsletter
April, 2010

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has terminated inmate education and substance abuse programs causing one lieutenant to recently remark, “it’s now from the cell to the yard.” The current climate behind bars is due to State budget cuts and the price has been dear. However, with a 10.5 billion dollar budget still intact for the CDCR, the current funding for prisons is going to salaries, waste and mismanagement. The California prison system grew too fast and people with little education and managerial skills were promoted. They were in positions over their heads. There are qualified professionals still employed within the CDCR who are paid well.

For instance, at Pelican Bay (California’s most northerly prison) the ratio of prison staff to the inmate population is nearly two to one. That’s a lot of money going to salary. There are 1644 state workers employed at the prison with an inmate population of 3,400. Few to none represent staff working in the field of rehabilitation.

Examples of these salaries are as follows:

  • Correctional Officers (C.O.s) earn a salary that tops off at $22,000 per month, times twelve months equals $264,000. This is for one officer. Not long ago, it was reported that one out of five correctional officers earns over $100,000 per year.
    C.O.s are the only union members authorized to bring in overtime pay. They are also the only State employees who somehow managed to dodge the bullet known as "furlough Friday." (Most State agencies and now local school districts have been forced to pinch this penny. Try to place a phone call or submit a form in person to any government agency on a Friday, and you'll catch my drift.)
  • Nurses’ salaries top off at $8,400 per month, times twelve months equals an annual salary of approximately $100,800. (Since the CDCR is now bound by federal law to maintain inmate health standards, these positions continue to rise.)
  • A Recreational Therapist earns $6,400 per month, on an annual salary of around $86,000.
  • The Vocational Education Landscape Instructor make $9,101 per month, times twelve months is $109,202.

And then there are the doctors. The salaries of doctors hovering around $250,000 per year make the earnings of the above pale in comparison. Like nurses, these positions will continue to increase. (In San Diego County, the entire top floor of a local hospital is earmarked for inmate medical treatment.)

  • One year’s worth of C.O. overtime pay at Pelican Bay was twelve million dollars ($12,000,000.00).
  • There are 33 State prisons with a 34th one in the works, all with similar expenditures. Housing one inmate annually costs $49,000.
  • The annual education budget for the California Institute for Women (CIW) was $250,000.
This budget included freshly purchased books and computer equipment that were promptly thrown into dumpsters. The warden denies any materials were discarded; yet multiple inmates who were actually ordered to dispose of these items said otherwise. They were told by officers to drive around the institution in electric carts and fill several institution dumpsters with the new and unused boxes of materials. (Dumpsters plural because the volume was too large for merely one bin.) After seeing the content of the tossed items, the inmates asked if they could keep a GED study guide, a reasonable request for anyone still waiting to obtain a high school equivalency certificate. Their request was denied and they were told, “everything must go into the dumpsters.” (The contents of the dumpsters were consequently hauled off to the local landfill and buried.) This action is documented in the March 2010 Inmate Family Counsel meeting notes.

At the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility thousands of dollars in new education textbooks were thrown out and stacked in a warehouse for scrapping. Several state teachers retrieved some of the books before they were taken away for disposal. To make space for the D.A.’s fiber optic pilot program (SB618), the Arts-in-Corrections (AIC) workspace (an established and documented rehabilitation program) was emptied and its thousand of dollars of materials and equipment were hauled away to an empty warehouse and tossed on the floor. With the state camera, I documented this illicit destruction of equipment and material. The camera was legally and officially purchased for the purpose of keeping a record of AIC community projects and inmate artwork. In prison, cameras are suspect and, along with guns, are not permissible. Now you know why.

Unwanted state materials should be made available to other state agencies, such as schools or recreational facilities, not wantonly discarded. In so doing, many law enforcement officials have become arrogant, sloppy and lazy. They have grown to believe they are above the law and those common caveats we, as citizens must adhere to do not apply to them.

The illustration accompanying this article entitled The Fritter Machine may appear to be confusing and illogical. As you view it, ponder the mechanical illusion as a representation of the CDCR. Perhaps then you'll see that it makes more sense than our spurious criminal justice system.

  • David Beck-Brown is a Community Ambassador for A New PATH.
  • He has worked with inmates from 1977-2009 at state, county and federal lock-ups, including the federal Witness Protection Program.
  • His commentaries have appeared in the LA Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Daily California and several other newspapers and magazines in the USA and the EU.