The Newsom administration is proposing large bonuses to retain juvenile prison employees as the system prepares to close next year.
As the state prepares to close its youth prisons, workers for the Division of Juvenile Justice could receive up to $50,000 bonuses to stay on the job until then, CalMatters has learned.
If approved, the bonus appears to be among the largest offered by the state to retain a group of employees.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and at least six unions are negotiating the pay bumps, hoping the large incentives will keep the youth facilities staffed until their June 30, 2023, closures.
Since Newsom announced closure plans, employees have started leaving the division for new jobs, fueling a worker shortage.
Under a draft plan obtained by CalMatters, direct care employees — youth prison guards, plumbers, teachers and chaplains — are among the hundreds of Division of Juvenile Justice employees who’d receive up to $50,000 in additional pay. Non-direct care employees, who mostly work for headquarters in Sacramento — deputy directors, executive assistants and nursing consultants, for instance — could receive up to $25,000.
Past retention bonuses for state prison workers have typically hovered between $2,400 and $5,000, according to documents on the California Department of Human Resources’ website.
“Negotiations are still active on this topic, we do not comment on active labor negotiations,” wrote CalHR spokesperson Camille Travis in an email response to CalMatters. “Once the negotiations are completed, the agreements will be posted to the CalHR website.”
According to the State Controller’s Office, 775 people worked at youth facilities as of Jan. 31, 2022. If all of them qualify for the full lump sum, it could cost California more than $38 million. By law, if the agreement is more than $1 million in net costs, the Legislature would have to approve it.
All of the unions representing youth corrections employees in the bonus negotiations donated to stop Newsom from being recalled in last year’s election. The largest contributor was the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which gave $1.75 million, according to the Secretary of State’s website.
The governor’s office did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment, with a spokesperson citing ongoing negotiations.
This is the second time in two years the state has proposed bonuses for juvenile justice employees. Last year, the state offered a limited group of employees $5,000 annually, which totaled $12,500 if employees stuck around. The new proposal would sweeten the deal, extending the bonuses to more Division of Juvenile Justice workers and quadrupling the maximum amount.
The taxable bonuses would be prorated, according to the draft agreement.
The Division of Juvenile Justice employees would be eligible for all or part of the proposed bonuses, said agency spokesperson Mike Sicilia in an email to CalMatters.
“Recruitment and retention efforts aim to retain our valued staff to ensure our facilities are properly operating, and that DJJ is able to continue giving the youth in our charge the best education and rehabilitative opportunities before the planned closure next year,” wrote Sicilia.
According to the Department of Finance, the state has about 1,000 permanent positions authorized between the four juvenile institutions. Roughly 23% of those positions are vacant, according to a CalMatters analysis of the budget report and data from the Controller’s Office.
N.A. Chaderjian and O. H. Close Youth Correctional Facilities, both in Stockton, have the highest vacancy rates, around 26%. In addition, about 20% of budgeted permanent positions at Pine Grove Conservation Camp and Ventura Youth Correctional Facility are unfilled.
Contracts with correctional unions are often controversial for their costs. Last year, amid the pandemic, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association negotiated a new contract that faced criticism from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, California’s nonpartisan budget and policy experts.
The office dinged the administration for increasing prison guards’ compensations “without clear justification.” In addition, they noted that the large contract did not address one of the biggest changes facing the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: impending adult and youth prison closures.
“Depending on how and when the DJJ facilities close, employees could be affected directly, either through relocation to other assignments … or through job loss,” the analyst’s office wrote last year.
“There could be various issues related to the closure of DJJ … that could be topics at the bargaining table. The new agreement does not appear to contain any provisions related to these issues.”
After the analysis, the Legislature overwhelmingly approved the new contract between the state and the union.
Now, the Legislature may have to decide on another financial package for youth prison employees.
The division spokesperson would not say how many staffers would be laid off during the transition. But according to its website, the division is trying to place juvenile employees in other jobs inside the department.
The state is negotiating the final agreement.
California has offered significant incentives in the past to keep state workers from leaving.
In 2003, prison psychiatrists and doctors received an “extra $2,200 a month as a recruitment and retention bonus,” according to a San Francisco Chronicle story. More recently, in 2020, nurses for the Schools of the Blind and Deaf were approved for a monthly bonus of 5% of their normal salary, up to $589.55.
This story was originally published by CalMatters.