Our review of the California Department of Corrections' (department) process of handling employee disciplinary matters revealed that the department:
The California Department of Corrections (department) appears to take employment-related matters and discipline seriously because it investigates and pursues employee indiscretions at every level—from violations of departmental policy to violations of law—both in and outside of work. It allocates numerous full- and part-time staff to pursue these indiscretions and to compel its employees to be upstanding citizens who do not engage in activities that discredit the department. However, it can be timelier in dealing with these matters, and it can improve the coordination and consistency of its processes. In addition, its employment-related computer databases, policies, training, and monitoring continue to need improvement despite previous audits that identified deficiencies. Although the department is now taking actions to improve its adverse-action process, it can further improve its efforts.1
The department employed about 45,000 full-time employees as of June 2004. Although the vast majority of these employees do not experience the disciplinary process, those who do encounter a process that is time consuming—taking an average of 285 days to serve an adverse action to an employee or close a case and ranging between an average of 172 and 739 days at the six institutions we reviewed. These findings are similar to those of the Office of the Inspector General in October 2001; however, since that time the department has shown improvement in its ability to complete cases within a year. Annually the State Personnel Board (board) revokes or modifies 62 percent of the department's adverse actions it reviews (roughly 14 percent of the total). We believe this process provides a good measure of the effectiveness of the department's disciplinary process. Improving this performance is important to ensure employee confidence in the process and in management.
Moreover, the department can improve its disciplinary practices by simplifying its investigative process for straightforward, uncontested cases, by eliminating the headquarters review of most adverse actions, and by taking steps to bring more standardization of penalties. Although we found no significant issues with regard to varying processes used by institutions and regions, we did find instances of inefficiency and seemingly disparate disciplinary actions for similar offenses. Additionally, the department's operations manual contains policies and procedures governing employment-related matters, but many of the policies are incomplete, out of date, and in need of revision. The lack of up-to-date policies may contribute to inconsistencies in the process.
To its credit, the department has taken some actions to improve the quality and consistency of its adverse actions. It is implementing a process that will provide for more frequent and earlier attorney involvement and is also working on a new discipline matrix, which provides standard guidelines for specific offenses. These changes should lead to improvements in the integrity, quality, and timeliness of investigations; improve the consistency of adverse actions for similar offenses; and reduce or eliminate the need for headquarters review. However, the department seldom uses mediation, which could help to prevent issues such as employee disputes from festering into bigger problems. Moreover, although the department designed a policy that enables headquarters to provide meaningful oversight of and guidance regarding settlements, it does not follow its policy. As a result, the department cannot ensure it is settling as effectively or as often as it could.
To monitor and oversee its employment-related matters, the department currently uses numerous electronic or manual databases at its headquarters, regional offices, and institutions. The multiple databases create much duplication of effort and redundancy. More troubling, the data contained in several of these systems is incomplete or inaccurate. None of the systems is comprehensive enough to allow management to adequately monitor or oversee the progress of employment-related actions. The department is currently implementing two new data systems that should resolve most of these problems if they are installed and used properly. Full implementation is scheduled for late 2005.
The department has also recently begun to require and provide job-specific training to its employee relations officers—a key position for ensuring the success of disciplinary actions. However, it still can do more to ensure it provides adequate training for other key positions involved in the disciplinary process and to improve its ability to prepare solid adverse-action cases. Finally, the department has been slow to address previous audit recommendations. It still has not implemented seven and has chosen not to address four recommendations from audits conducted in 2000 and 2001.
To improve its disciplinary process, the department should do the following:
The department generally agrees with our recommendations and reports that it has initiated or partially implemented several of them already.
1 Adverse action refers to all forms of formal discipline from a letter of reprimand to demotion to dismissal.