Back in January, I reported (here) on California's costly and ineffective program for screening Sexually Violent Predators. On Sunday, the L.A. Times reported on how the program is enriching a handful of state psychologists to the tune of more than $1 million in some cases (in addition to their day jobs). The state's 79 evaluators earned a cumulative $24 million in 2007, a figure that is expected to rise in coming years even as funds for more essential public services disappear. It's a story that both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Contra Costa Times have also covered some time ago:
State pays millions for contract psychologists to keep up with Jessica's Law
A 2006 law intended to crack down on sex offenders has proved a bonanza for a small group of private psychologists and psychiatrists, 14 of whom billed California taxpayers last year for a half a million dollars or more each, a Times investigation found.The full story is here.
Among the 79 contractors hired by the state to evaluate sex offenders, the top earner was Robert Owen, a Central Coast psychologist who pulled in more than $1.5 million in 2007, according to state records reviewed by The Times.
That's equivalent to working 100 hours per week for 52 weeks at nearly $300 per hour -- top-scale in the private sector.
The No. 2 earner, psychologist Dawn Starr, billed the state $1.1 million in 2007, including $17,500 for a single day in April.
"It's been a boatload of money, to put it colloquially," psychologist Shoba Sreenivasan said during court testimony in November. Working only part time, she billed the state nearly $900,000 last year and at least $290,000 this year…
Dr. Michael First, editor of the American Psychiatric Assn. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the standard reference for mental disorders, said most reports require at least 30 hours.
Yet on a single day, Nov. 13, 2007, No. 2-earner Starr billed for five evaluations.On April 23, 2007, she billed more than 17 hours for a range of court-related work and still found time to complete an evaluation, according to her invoices, which were reviewed by The Times.
Dr. Mohan Nair, a psychiatrist with offices in Beverly Hills and Los Alamitos, earned nearly $1 million last year under the state program. He also saw private patients, provided forensic testimony and evaluation for other government agencies, directed a diagnostic lab and supervised residents at two medical centers.
Nair completed up to 20 sex-offender evaluations a month in 2007. Including time billed for legal matters, they comprised just 20% to 30% of his professional practice, he said.
Even at 100 hours per week, he would have had no more than six hours to complete each of five evaluations….
The State Personnel Board recently took up the issue, ruling that the use of contractors violated state law by failing to make an adequate effort to fill evaluator jobs with regular employees. The board ordered mental health officials to replace the contractors with civil servants. Despite an increase in pay to up to $110,000 annually, Mayberg said, just four jobs out of 80 have been filled.
Since then, the department and the union helped to craft a bill to permit the use of contract evaluators until January 2011.