Overtime Pay for New York Prison Guards, Nurses “Out of Control”
Some blame prison understaffing on a weak talent pool or an inability to hire sufficient staff in the rural areas where prisons are often located. Others theorize the problem is more systemic, arguing that corrections departments and private prison companies purposefully employ fewer personnel to reduce costs associated with payroll and benefits.
Whatever the reason, New Yorkers have found themselves paying as much as double some prison employees’ salaries in overtime expenses to accommodate staff shortages. According to a report from WNYT Channel 13, the top ten “overtime earners” in the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) were paid $789,000 in 2011. And that’s in spite of DOCCS’ relative success in recent efforts to curb overtime spending.
For fiscal year 2012-2013 – the most recent year for which data is available – DOCCS logged 2.44 million hours of overtime costing around $107 million at an average overtime rate of $42.66 per hour for correctional officers and $53.04 per hour for sergeants. The total number and cost of overtime hours represented a decrease from the previous fiscal year.
“It’s still very, very high,” said state Senator Jeff Klein, who chairs the Task Force on Government Efficiency. “It’s unacceptable, and by having managers deal with the problem on the agency level, that’s how we’re going to reduce that out-of-control overtime in the state of New York.”
Then-DOCCS Commissioner Brian Fischer had previously told WNYT that the department’s overtime spending was in part due to a nursing shortage.
“I’m not going to close down an infirmary, I’m not going to close down a security post,” Fischer said in 2010. “So it’s not mismanagement, it’s managing within the structure that I’m given. And right now the structure is kind of tough.”
Matthew Mercy, a nurse at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, received $115,373 in overtime in 2011 in addition to his base salary of $58,469. Six DOCCS nurses were among the top 10 overtime earners, averaging more than $82,000 each in overtime pay.
A DOCCS report for fiscal year 2012-2013 noted an 8.9% increase in the number of overtime hours for medical care, mainly for transportation and staffing when prisoners are taken to outside hospitals.
But the same report cited guard absences, “driven primarily by sick leave, workers’ compensation and military leave,” as having “the biggest impact on overtime.” The report said that due to absences during fiscal year 2012-2013, overtime hours exceeded the amount allocated in the state budget by more than 25%. For example, while the state had budgeted for 11 days of sick leave for each guard, on average they used 14 days of sick leave during the fiscal year – resulting in an additional 424,104 hours of overtime.
Positions that remained unfilled accounted for approximately 1.58 million hours of overtime during 2012-2013. Still, the report indicated that was a 3% decrease from previous levels. Other factors impacting overtime costs included overtime to cover construction projects and comply with OSHA requirements.
Most overtime in the DOCCS occurred in maximum-security facilities. Of the top ten overtime wage earners, the remaining four were sergeants and lieutenants. Some were earning base annual salaries approaching $100,000, including Sing Sing Sgt. Eddie Josey, who received $83,797 in overtime beyond his $75,686 salary in 2011.
Commissioner Fischer refused further requests from WNYT for interviews concerning overtime wages. However, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said all state agencies needed to do a better job of monitoring and reducing overtime.
“Certainly if there are emergency situations, nobody’s saying there will never be overtime,” he stated. “But in some agencies, it does seem like a matter of course rather than looking for effective alternatives to be more efficient.”
Sources: http://wnyt.com; www.osc.state.ny.us; “Report on Security Staffing 2013,” New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login