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Michigan Auditor General: DOC Overspends Millions on Overtime

by Matt Clarke

In October 2008, Michigan’s Auditor General released a performance audit on selected personnel and other administrative costs at the Department of Corrections (DOC) for the previous fiscal year. The report revealed that the DOC had overspent millions on overtime pay.

As of December 31, 2007, the DOC spent $1.91 billion to operate 41 prisons and 8 camps that housed over 50,000 prisoners. The department had 16,260 employees with an annual payroll of $1.41 billion, including $95.3 million in overtime costs.

The audit’s objectives were to assess the effectiveness of the DOC’s management of staffing, overtime, salaries/benefits and other administrative expenses. To do this, the auditors interviewed DOC employees and reviewed statutes, directives, policies, legislative reports and additional documents related to administrative costs. The DOC’s price negotiations with Michigan State Industries (MSI) were audited, but MSI operations and DOC costs for food, prisoner transportation and health care were not.

The most glaring deficiency found in the audit was the DOC’s reliance on paying
overtime instead of hiring more guards. The auditors discovered that 121 guards had each worked more than 1,000 hours of overtime. One worked 2,390 overtime hours in addition to his 2,080 full-time work hours. Thirty-five guards worked at least 14 consecutive days and some worked as many as 85 consecutive days. Seven guards worked double shifts of at least 16 hours during consecutive days. One guard worked 19 double shifts within 40 consecutive days.

“There were staff that accrued as much overtime as they possibly could,” said DOC spokesman John Cordell. “We knew there was an overtime problem even before this audit came out.”

The report noted that the DOC’s method of projecting staffing requirements was inaccurate and might lead to unanticipated overtime. Such overtime “may impair the physical and mental abilities of custody officers, resulting in less effective management of prisoners, thereby jeopardizing the safety of other custody officers, prisoners, and the general public.” Thus, overtime was determined to be a public safety issue.

It is also expensive; since four out of five DOC guards are at the top of the pay scale, overtime can reach up to $37 an hour. And while overtime leads to larger paychecks, not all guards appreciate the extra work. In 2008, the Michigan Corrections Organization, which represents state prison guards, unsuccessfully sued the DOC for assigning excessive mandatory overtime at some prisons. Several guards filed affidavits stating they were exhausted and had difficulty staying awake due to overtime work.

The audit recommended that the DOC improve guard staffing levels through additional hiring, calculate overtime based on paid actual hours worked, and eliminate the prohibition against temporarily assigning guards to other nearby prisons. Auditors further recommended improving contract salaries and benefits negotiations to eliminate benefits such as the $575 annual dry cleaning allowance, sick leave bonuses, physical fitness bonuses and high-security retention premium payments. Regionalization of maintenance, business offices, warehousing and food service staff was suggested. Finally, the report recommended that the DOC formalize its process for price negotiations with MSI.

The DOC agreed to make some of the changes cited in the audit, including hiring 500 new guards. Additionally, prison officials adopted a novel method to reduce overtime costs: They altered how overtime was defined.

A contract change that went into effect on October 1, 2008 no longer allows DOC employees to include sick days as work hours. The change means that sick days do not count toward the 80 hours per two-week period that guards must work before they start earning overtime pay, and has already resulted in $4 million in savings. Vacation days still count toward the 80-hour work week for DOC employees, though. See: Michigan Office of the Auditor General: Performance Audit of Selected Personnel and Other Administrative Costs, Department of Corrections (October 2008).

Additional sources: Detroit Free Press, Associated Press

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