It's hard to tell whether inmates who work in prison have an easier time finding jobs once they are released than inmates who don't, according to a state auditor's report released Tuesday on the California Prison Industry Authority.
The authority employs about 3 percent of the state's prison inmates, who build license plates, manufacture mattresses, wash laundry, package produce and perform other labor.
"Although one of its primary responsibilities is to offer inmates the opportunity to develop effective work habits and occupational skills, (the authority) cannot determine the impact it makes on postâ€‘release inmate employability because it lacks reliable data," state auditor Elaine Howle wrote in the report.
Two approaches to determining the employment rates of the general parolee population compared to those who worked for the authority were unsuccessful.
The audit said matching the Social Security numbers of parolees with Social Security numbers from state employment data was "futile." The auditor's office then tried to analyze employment data in the state parolee database, but what it termed as poor data entry practices by parole officers left that list with batches of unreliable information.
Among the audit's recommendations was one that the corrections department fix the bad data, such as entries of "TBD" and "TBA" in the employment field of some parolees' files.
Corrections official Scott Kernan responded in a letter to the auditor that those ambiguous entries were a normal practice because they are entered six months before the prisoner is released.
"If Corrections believes that TBD and TBA are indeed valid entries, it should update the CalParole user guide and parole agent's field book policy with this information," the audit said.
By law, the authority is self-sustaining with no general fund support. Nearly all of the goods the prisoners make are sold to state departments such as the Department of Motor Vehicles and the prison system.
The audit looked at 11 products and found that even though the authority charged higher than market value for some of them, the state saved $3.1 million during the fiscal year that ended last June because the other products were competitively priced.
Revenues keep the factories and agriculture centers operating. Prisoners earn between $0.35 and $0.90 an hour of work. About 5,100 inmates were participating in the program as of June 2010.
The audit said prisoners who work for the authority are less likely to end up back in prison after being released than who don't participate, which saved the state $8.5 million in the fiscal year ending in June 2009.
But the audit was critical of the authority cutting about one in 10 jobs during the recession. The authority said a handful of factories were shut down because state budget cuts had lowered the demand for its products.
Prisoners can sign up for work on a first-come, first-serve basis. The process is soon expected to change to a normal application process like the one they may encounter once on parole.
PHOTO CREDIT: Adam Casey, left, prepares a piece of sheet metal to build one of the components that will be used in a modular building that he and other inmates build at the Prison Industry Authority compound at Folsom State Prison on Monday April 5, 2010. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee