SACRAMENTO — The state has put on the government payroll 30 people hired to be top managers at prisons that have not yet been built.
At least four of seven new wardens (known formally as prison superintendents or managers) are based in Sacramento while the Department of Corrections is trying to get construction under way. In some cases, the depratment is still seeking sites for the new prisons.
Gov. George Deukmejian on Tuesday defended the practice as "good common sense" while controversy flared over the hiring of 30 administrators by the Department of Corrections far in advance of the prisons actually being constructed.
One critic, Assemblyman Richard Floyd (D-Hawthorne), charged that the wardens and their top managers are "doing nothing but making sure that birds don't fly in through the widows" of their Sacramento office building.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 14, 1985 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
A headline in The Times on Tuesday incorrectly stated that 30 wardens had been hired for prisons that are not yet built. Actually, 30 top-level prison administrators have been hired, including four wardens who are assigned to Sacramento to help plan the new prisons.
But the department countered that the administrators of the proposed new prisons are performing important tasks in the capital that must be accomplished before the lockups are built and put to use.
They include such diverse functions as performing public relations with apprehensive or hostile communities where a new prison may be located, overseeing security arrangements, inmate transportation and employee housing, plus establishing medical and business services.
"If you started a new city today, you wouldn't just open the doors at City Hall and say we're in business," said department spokesman Les Johnson. "There is a lot of preparation and planning that goes into opening a new city."
'Common Sense Reasons'
Deukmejian conceded Tuesday during a question-and-answer session at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon that some of the administrators may have been kept in Sacramento longer than expected because of unanticipated delays in getting the state's ambitious prison construction program off the drawing boards.
"But I do think that there are some good common sense reasons for having some of that staff on board early," he said.
On Monday, Floyd pointed out that no construction has started at prisons proposed for Ione, Avenal, Adelanto, Los Angeles, Blythe, San Diego, Folsom and Stockton, yet 30 people are now "on the job" at an annual cost of $1.3 million and another 43 positions are ready to be filed. He noted that in the current fiscal year the department's budget, approved by the Legislature, authorized 228 positions at a cost of $10 million.
Johnson countered that only 30 of the total 228 positions had been filled and "we are not going to hire (more employees) until we have a need for them. We could have filled them, but when construction started lagging we didn't fill them."
Floyd and Sen. Robert B. Presley (D-Riverside), chairman of the Legislature's joint prison construction committee, expressed concern at the practice of putting the wardens and their top assistants in prison administrative posts long before the facilities were built.
"I can see staffs being picked six months in advance or even longer to get operation of the prison in shape before inmates begin arriving," Presley said. "But not two, three, four years in advance."
Johnson said that until about six months ago the department hired wardens for new prisons two years in advance. The policy was rewritten, he said, so a warden now is appointed after completion of the proposed prison's environmental impact report. This is intended to shorten the period of time before a warden actually starts work at a prison.
Construction of the proposed Avenal prison in Kings County has been delayed because of a court fight over the environmental report and probably will be tied up in appellate courts for more months to come.