Layoffs at Calif. prison slated for closure could displace employees at other sites

Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he wants to shut down two of the state's prisons, but hasn't yet identified another institution for closure


By Wes Venteicher
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Closing Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy could set off a domino-like chain of job changes at other state prisons under California’s complex layoff process for public employees.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sent informational packets on layoffs to employees Friday, the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to close the 67-year-old facility that employs 1,080 people.

Newsom has said he wants to shut down two of the state’s prisons, but hasn’t yet identified another institution for closure. The state prison population has declined by nearly 25,000 inmates in the last year as institutions release prisoners early to reduce the risk of the coronavirus outbreak.

The corrections department must submit a layoff plan to the state Human Resources Department as part of the closure. A plan hasn’t yet been submitted, a CalHR spokesman said Wednesday.

The corrections department is in the first stages of an involved process. When performing layoffs, the state gives workers “bumping” privileges that allow senior employees at an institution targeted for reductions to take the positions of less tenured employees with similar jobs at other institutions within a given geographical area. Those less senior workers, in turn, may bump out even newer employees.

Affected employees also will be able to fill vacancies at other institutions. Deuel Vocational Institution employees will be eligible for vacancies within 100 miles of the prison, corrections department spokeswoman Dana Simas said in an email.

“We have a transition team in place that is evaluating all of the details of the deactivation of the prison, including placement of staff,” she said in the email. “Our focus right now is to minimize impact to staff, which will primarily be driven by CalHR rules and negotiations with affected bargaining units.”

Within 100 miles of the Tracy institution are San Quentin State Prison; California Medical Facility and California State Prison - Solano, in Vacaville; Folsom State Prison; California State Prison - Sacramento, in Folsom; Mule Creek State Prison in Ione; Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad; Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown; California Health Care Facility in Stockton; and Valley State Prison and Central California Women’s Facility, in Chowchilla. There also are youth correctional facilities in Stockton and Pine Grove.

State jobs are posted at calcareers.ca.gov, but only a fraction of any given institution’s official vacancies are posted. Several of the prisons within 100 miles of the Tracy facility have just a few jobs posted on the site, but have more than 100 vacancies listed in their most recent quarterly reports. The corrections department hasn’t clarified how it will count vacancies for the purposes of job transfers.

The staffing changes will affect the prison’s 469 correctional officers, other peace officers, health care workers and 70 maintenance and operations employees who work there.

“We’re in the early, early stages right now,” said Steve Crouch, director of public employees for the International Union of Operating Engineers. “We have a lot of questions.”

Crouch said the union will seek severance packages for employees who get laid off. Among his questions is whether the state will completely close the prison or do a “warm shutdown,” in which it would continue to keep the buildings functional, requiring some ongoing work from Crouch’s members.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The department will calculate seniority scores for impacted workers, taking into account state service, military service and exempt service (for employers such as the Legislature, judicial branch and state colleges and universities), Simas said.

“Until the reductions and their effects are known, there is no specific number of years or seniority score that can be identified to determine if an individual ultimately will be impacted,” she said in an email.

Affected workers will also be able to participate in the State Restriction of Appointments program, which attempts to place them with other state agencies that have vacancies.

Deuel Vocational Institution costs about $182 million per year to operate and houses about 1,500 inmates, according to the corrections department.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, said the prison needed $800 million in repairs.

California had 92,981 inmates in prisons and correctional camps as of Sept. 27, down from 114,318 in March and from 117,666 in August 2019.

The corrections department spends about $13 billion a year, and the state spends another $2 billion each year on other corrections-related programs. Correctional officers alone make up about a third of California’s general fund spending on labor, earning about $5.5 billion in 2019.

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©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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