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Audit Finds California Prison Employees Routinely Work Less Than 40 Hours a Week

In an April 2011 audit, the California Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that over a three-month period ending in August 2010, mental health and education employees at Mule Creek State Prison routinely worked less than the 40 hours a week reflected on the timesheets they submitted for pay. The noted discrepancies, totaling over 4,000 hours, amounted to $272,900 during the three-month period – or nearly $1.1 million on an annualized basis. And that was at just one state prison.

The OIG compared the number of work hours paid to psychiatrists, psychologists and licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), as well as to teachers, vocational instructors and education supervisors, with the number of hours those employees spent inside Mule Creek’s secure perimeter as recorded by the prison’s electronic card-swiping security system (the only such system currently in operation in the state’s 33 adult prisons). After taking into account both authorized time off and training hours, the OIG found that a full 15% of the total hours for which mental health employees were paid, and 8% of the hours for which education employees were paid, remained unaccounted for.

Among psychiatrists (with average annual salaries of $245,000), those scheduled to work four ten-hour shifts a week averaged only 7.5 hours inside the security perimeter each day, or just 30 of the 40 hours they were expected – and paid – to work each week.
Incredibly, the psychiatrists at Mule Creek worked a full ten-hour day a mere 4% of the time. In the words of one clinician, leaving early after completing patient work was “just part of the culture” – not surprising in light of the fact that the chief of mental health services himself worked only about 7.6 hours of his scheduled nine-hour shifts, on average.

A similar pattern emerged among psychologists (with average annual salaries of $103,000) and LCSWs (with average annual salaries of $80,000). In regard to psychologists, those scheduled to work either nine- or ten-hour shifts averaged thirty-five hours or less per week. Among LCSWs, the collective average was only thirty-three hours per week regardless of the length of the shift.

The OIG found that both psychiatrists and psychologists scheduled to work standard eight-hour shifts actually worked their expected forty-hour work weeks. The inspectors noted that by working such shifts, clinicians could meet more frequently with patients; conversely, with ten-hour shifts they were left with three hours a day of non-patient (or administrative) time, a full 30% of their scheduled work load.

As summarized by the OIG, a change from a “4/10/40” schedule to a “5/8/40” schedule would result in a 25% increase in patient hours (from 28 to 35 per week) and a corresponding 58% decrease in non-patient hours (from 12 to 5 per week). While acknowledging that clinicians prefer the 4/10/40 schedules, the OIG found a change to 5/8/40 schedules “necessary to better align clinicians’ work schedules with delivering optimal patient care,” as well as to “minimize ... the reasons for employees ... leav[ing] work before their shift ends.”

Among teachers and vocational instructors (with average annual salaries of $77,000), the OIG found average work-weeks of just 37 and 36 hours, respectively – again, not surprising considering that their supervisors put in less than a full day’s work, averaging between 6.6 and 7.0 hours per day, or the equivalent of just 33-35 hours per week.

“Many of the prison’s mental health and educational employees were fully paid, but did not average working full days inside the prison,” the OIG audit concluded.
Compounding matters, the OIG found that when prison employees take time off, the time off is often not reported on their timesheets (16% of the time) or erroneously recorded/tabulated by personnel office staff (22% of the time), with the result that employees are mistakenly overpaid for hours not worked and, on balance, retain excessive leave credits. Those credits can then either be re-used or cashed in when the employees leave state service.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Undersecretary Scott Kernan said the overpayments due to shorted work hours were “unacceptable,” though no employees were disciplined.

Sources: “Mule Creek State Prison Must Improve Its Oversight of Some Employees’ Work Hours and Timekeeping,” Cali-fornia Office of the Inspector General (April 2011);

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