Mohammad Safi appears to have found the American dream. In 2006, Safi graduated from a medical school in Afghanistan. He then came to the United States and began working as a psychiatrist at a California mental hospital. By 2010, he made $822,302. As California struggles with this economic crisis and shuts down needed social programs, the state is still paying absurd annual salaries like Safi’s. His windfall is due entirely to the failure of the correctional department to meet minimal standards of care for prisoners. The state waited to be ordered to meet mental health standards before having to go into a bidding process to quickly secure such doctors. This set off an instant wage war with the mental health department, which had to bid higher for its doctors. The result? Some 16 California psychiatrists, including Safi, made more than $400,000
In comparison, a review of the 11 other most populous states had only one doctor with this level of compensation. Indeed, Safi’s compensation was almost five times as much as Governor Jerry Brown’s last year.
What is also striking is that Safi was paid for an average of almost 17 hours each day including Saturdays and Sundays.
Once again, there is little attention to the failure of the Department of Corrections that led to the court order triggering this wage race. Had the Department met basic standards rather than litigate the question, a gradual process could have resulted in recruitment at a lower cost.
Notably, the average salary from 2005 to 2008 for California’s government-employed psychiatrists rose 58 percent to $251,060. In 2006, when he worked half a year, Safi earned $90,682. In 2008, he worked a full year of state employment for $236,108.
Last year, Safi held a fixed salary of $273,950, but earned $548,352 in extra-duty pay from 3,990 additional hours at the prison mental-health facility in Soledad prison.
He is not alone. Husband-and-wife psychiatrists Joginder Singh and Mohinder Kaur earned a total of $4.7 million from 2005 through 2011
It is common for politicians to wait for courts to order reforms to avoid blame for added costs — even though those costs are higher due to the delay and the need to meet court ordered standards. This is an example of the complexity of the cause-and-effect of such constitutional violations. While people may be upset about the salaries, it is hard to get the public to understand that these absurd salaries were triggered by their own state officials violating minimal constitutional standard for confinement.