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Oregon Prison Employees Earn $580,891 for No Work

In 2013, the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) paid 53 employees $580,891 to stay home, according to public records.

ODOC employees may be placed on administrative leave and “duty stationed at home” for a number of reasons, such as being suspected of criminal conduct, violating employment practices, or for internal personnel reviews.

Although the “home stationed” employee has no work to do, they clock in at the beginning of their shift and cannot leave their home until their shift ends.

“With DOC, because of the nature of the work and access, that makes it difficult to give work to do at home,” admits Christine Popoff, ODOC’s human resources director. “More than likely, they probably are not doing any work.”

One of Oregon’s two prison employee unions criticizes the agency’s “overzealous” use of home stationing, claiming that too many people are sent home too long, for arbitrary reasons.

“No matter who does the investigation, they just take too long,” said Don Loving, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 75 (AFSCME). “We want them to be thorough but quick. It doesn’t do the employee any good, it doesn’t do the agency any good, and it doesn’t do the taxpayer any good for these things to stretch out.”

ODOC Director Colette Peters disagrees. “We do not have individuals duty stationed at home longer than need be,” she said. “Our executive team reviews every case monthly to ensure the investigations are moving.” However, the evidence seems to support Loving’s side of the debate.

As we’ve previously reported, in December 2011 female prisoners accused ODOC maintenance worker Jeremy Veelle of sexual misconduct. (PLN, Apr 2013, p. 56). In March 2012, he was arrested for official misconduct and assigned to home duty where he remained as of February 2014. During that time, he has earned his full regular pay, received holiday pay, accrued vacation time and been awarded five pay raises, totaling more than $305 a month. To date, taxpayers have paid Veelle in excess of $79,700 to do no work. Add to that more than $15,000 in attorney fees - so far - to defend him against a number of prisoner sexual abuse lawsuits, despite the ongoing internal investigation.

Veelle is far from alone. As of February 2014, Columbia River Correctional Institution office specialist Renee Larsen had been paid $49,392 on home duty since August 2012.

In August 2011, Registered Nurse Hope Thomas was sent home from the Snake River Correctional Institution for performance issues. She returned to work in May 2012, but was home stationed again just a month later for a medication error. Prior to her February 2013 termination, Thomas was paid $73,568 to stay home and ODOC continued to pay Thomas even after an October 2012 State Nursing Board order placing her on a two year probationary term for “failing to take action to preserve client safety, incomplete record keeping and failing to conform to the essential standards of acceptable and prevailing nursing practice.”

Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution (EOCI) Dentist Mary Harrell earned $49,545 while she was home stationed for five months during a 2013 Oregon Board of Dentistry investigation. In September 2013, the board reprimanded Harrell for eight instances of unacceptable prisoner care dating back to 2009, including injuring one prisoner so badly he required emergency hospitalization. Harrell resigned in October 2013.

Some top ODOC administrators are not immune from home stationing. In November 2013, for example, EOCI Superintendent Rick Coursey was home stationed where he remained in February 2014. He earned his regular salary during that time, even though he was demoted and reassigned.

In 2012, the ODOC Director bestowed “Manager of the Year” honors on Jacy Gamble, the chief investigator for ODOC’s Inspector General’s office (i.e., Internal Affairs). Just months later, however, she was home stationed in October 2012, for five months, earning $31,156. Gamble returned to work in March 2013 with her pay and title intact, despite remaining under investigation as of February 2014.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that there appears to be a different set of rules that apply at the very top of the ODOC food chain. In April, 2014, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission announced that it is investigating ODOOC deputy direct Mitch Morrow - the second in command - for violating state nepotism laws by using his influence to get his son job promotions and other benefits. Just days later, ODOC spokeswoman Betty Bemt announced that Morrow, who earns $147,324 a year, will not be sent home during the investigation.

Just two days before news broke that that 53 employees earned $580,891 for performing no work in 2013; Director Peters told a Legislative budget subcommittee that ODOC has a $90 million budget deficit.

ODOC’s 2013-15 budget grew - as it has every budget cycle in recent memory - by $34 million to $1.4 billion. This time, however, Lawmakers ordered ODOC to find $77 million in “unspecified” savings.

On February 10, 2014, Peters told budget leaders that those cuts simply were not possible. Despite leaving 200 positions vacant, increasing prisoner populations in several prisons and making other cuts, ODOC realized just $19 million - or 24.7% — of the mandated cuts. On top of the $58 million in supposedly impossible cuts, prison officials are now asking for another $90 million to survive the final year of the current budget.

“The prison system is not being funded at the level it needs to be funded,” AFSCME spokeswoman Mary Botkin told the subcommittee. “We need your help to get there.”

Sources: The Oregonian, The Statesman Journal

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