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Overtime Payouts in California Prison System Approach $500 Million

Uniformed workers collected most of the extra pay, as would be expected, accounting for 70 of the top 100 earners. But hybrid “nurse-officers” — who still exist a decade after the courts mandated their elimination — were second, with 17 of the 100 highest-paid. CDCR paid overtime to almost 250 of these dual-function personnel at three psychiatric facilities.

The top overtime earner in the entire California system in 2019 was a nurse-guard at the Vacaville prison hospital. Thomas L. DeWitt was paid a total of $292,000 that year — almost $186,000 of it in overtime — more than tripling his regular salary of $90,800. Five of the top 10 overtime earners were nurse-officers, drawing extra scrutiny to the positions.

Classified as “medical technical assistants (psychiatric),” the nurse-officers provide psychiatric care while also supervising inmate security. In 2006, a federally appointed receiver eliminated the positions, noting that no other state uses them, but they’re still being phased out.

Michael Bien, lead counsel in similar federal suits, says blurring the lines between security and treatment personnel is confusing to patients. “Sometimes they were in correctional roles, sometimes they were in medical roles and a patient needs to know that someone is one or the other,” he said.

CDCR health officials said the hybrid nurse-officers — all of whom are registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, or licensed psychiatric technicians — were being compelled to transfer to one role or the other. More personnel chose officer roles over nursing, contrary to predictions, leading to shortages in healthcare and necessitating the overtime.

A CDCR spokesperson, Terry Thornton, said the department “strives to limit overtime” by filling vacant jobs, but that it’s “sometimes unavoidable and a natural part of the operation of a 24/7 public safety organization.” He noted that the department was “looking to address situations of excessive overtime” through recruitment and retention efforts.

As of early August, CDCR had nearly a thousand job vacancies posted, including 330 nursing positions and over 300 mental health jobs. 


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