Missing Property and Overtime Abuse in Illinois Prisons Cost Taxpayers Millions
by Dale Chappell
An audit released on September 18, 2019 found, among other issues, that missing property and abuse of overtime in Illinois’ prison system cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year.
The two-year audit reported that prison staff were taking paid leave time but then coming in to work overtime that same day, earning not only their regular pay rate but also their overtime rate – in effect 2½ times their regular pay. Additionally, the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) often had to pay another staffer overtime to cover the shift left open by the person taking paid leave.
In fiscal year 2016, the DOC paid almost 655,000 hours of overtime at a cost of $32.2 million. However, the following year overtime increased to just over 700,000 hours at $33.6 million, and in 2018 it jumped to almost 978,000 hours at a cost of $43 million – a nearly 50 percent increase in just two years.
“It could be a sign of abuse of overtime and may be against department policy,” the audit said, noting that guards, who earn about $48,000 a year, sometimes make more than $100,000 with overtime.
Interestingly, the DOC spent almost $2 billion in fiscal year 2018 – $700 million more than in 2017, even though the state’s prison population dropped by over 4,000 prisoners during the two-year period from 2016 to 2018.
The audit also identified thousands of inventory items that could not be accounted for. The DOC said it couldn’t locate 946 pieces of computer equipment, and that more than 3,500 inventory items worth nearly $3.4 million were missing.
“Property control is important, and your vigilance at that is very telling at your accountability,” one of the auditors told the DOC. But the audit found that theft was perhaps only a small part of the problem. “More time than not, it’s that they need better training and more people doing inventory and tracking,” the auditor stated.
The DOC doesn’t list something as “missing,” but rather as “unlocated” in its database. One of those items was an entire salad bar with a sneeze guard.
Further, there were problems with how the DOC handles prisoners’ commissary accounts, and safety concerns over not putting prisoners who work with metal tools through metal detectors when they leave work. The DOC cited budget constraints for not having the metal detectors at some facilities. And when quizzed by auditors about what the rules were that governed their jobs, prison guards knew only 11 of the 39 rules.
The DOC said in a statement that it accepted the audit’s 46 findings in need of attention, and was “committed to operations that support safety and security, transparency and fiscal responsibility.”
Sources: peoriapublicradio.org, nprillinois.org
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