Fewer prisoners are being sent to the California Men’s Colony, and the institution expects to lose 200 additional custodial and noncustodial jobs over time, according to a report from the San Luis Obispo County civil grand jury.
State law requires the county to assess the state of the prison annually, and this year grand jurors have done so in the wake of the state’s so-called “realignment,” under which county governments have received responsibility for managing and supervising certain offenders who previously were sent to state prison or paroled.
The plan is intended to help the state save money and comply with a federal court order to reduce California’s prison population.
Because of the shift, state prisons such as CMC have seen and will see their populations decrease.The grand jury said the “west side,” or minimum-security part of the prison, which holds those convicted of low-level felonies, had dropped from 2,750 inmates in October 2010 to 2,472 in October 2011. That number is expected to drop by an additional 600 by this July.
The “east side,” or medium-security section, had a population of 3,700 in October 2011, roughly the same as the previous year. But it had dropped by 600 in January 2012.
There have been accompanying decreases in incident and disciplinary reports, as well as requests for medical appointments.
At the time of the inspection, there were 1,054 custodial staff and 903 noncustodial staff, of whom 276 were medical and 209 were mental health staff.
Staffing expenses account for 88 percent of the budget, according to the grand jury, and “overtime occurs daily.”
“Management reported that it could not function without overtime,” the grand jury wrote.
The grand jury explored staffing, population and other conditions at the prison, which has a capacity of 6,485 inmates and an annual operating budget of $241.4 million. It is located on 356 acres along Highway 1 north of San Luis Obispo on the way to Morro Bay. It leases some of the land from the California National Guard.
Other grand jury observations regarding CMC:
Medical staffers reported they feel safe because they are trained to use force when necessary and wear “alert” buttons and whistles.
Medical staffers compared their safety favorably to Atascadero State Hospital, where attacks on staff occur regularly. They told grand jurors that CMC “does not have the level of violence noted at ASH.”
Cellphones are “a serious problem.” Cellphones can be used to threaten witnesses, orchestrate additional crimes, expose prison security measures and “revictimize” those already targeted by the inmate. The prison confiscated 420 cellphones between Jan. 1 and Oct. 3, 2011.
Other contraband, such as illegal alcohol, tobacco and drugs, contribute to “an unruly population and inmate-on-inmate violence, crime and coercion.”
There were 60,000 medical appointments a month, half of them related to mental health. That number was dropping rapidly by early 2012.
CMC uses electronic scanning to keep medical records.
CMC has put 500 inmates to work under a program known as Prison Industries Authority. They make such items as boots and T-shirts, and “their print shop supplies the entire state with license plate tags.”
The average reading level for CMC inmates is grade 7.9 — just short of an eighth-grade education.
There are 200 inmate grievances each month, which are handled through a formal process that involves inmates and management meeting once a week.