- Associated Press - Sunday, September 7, 2014

CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) - Some state prison workers in southern Illinois are making nearly $200,000 a year as the state continues grappling with overtime payouts topping $60 million, according to a newspaper report.

The prison system has made strides in paring overtime costs, reflected in the fact that 178,000 fewer overtime hours were worked over the past two fiscal years, Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer told the (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan (https://bit.ly/1oUacmE ). Still, he said, the department only saved $2 million.

“We agree those are still significant numbers and that’s why the topic gets a lot of deserved attention,” he said.

Shaer said factors that limited the extent of savings included a court ruling to pay wage and overtime rate increases the administration had suspended because of a lack of funds. Under that ruling, the average wage rate for overtime went from $40.69 to $44.48 per hour for correctional officers.

Shaer said other contributors were seven flu outbreaks in the recently ended fiscal year, along with harsh winter conditions and an unusually high number of inmates requiring standard security escorts to court or the hospital.



State lawmakers from southern Illinois - a region rich with prisons but with counties that long have been among the state’s economically stressed - don’t appear satisfied with such explanations.

“We’ve asked to hire more people, plain and simple,” said Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Harrisburg Democrat. “That’s how you correct the overtime problem. We’ve asked corrections to do that for years.”

“It doesn’t seem to me to make sense to pay all of this overtime when you could probably get by hiring new workers, new corrections officers,” added state Sen. David Luechtefeld, an Okawville Republican. “At least you would be more fully staffed and I wouldn’t think it would cost you a lot more. We’ve tried to emphasize that to the department, and they seem to agree, but then not a lot happens.”

The newspaper, citing figures obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, said a shift supervisor at southern Illinois’ Pinckneyville Correctional Center earned nearly $57,000 in overtime in addition to his $119,000 salary, while a sergeant at the Centralia Correctional Center pulled in about $50,000 in overtime on top of a nearly $74,000 salary.

Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents many of the prison employees, said the union has been working with the administration on the overtime issue and in the past couple of years “had increasing cooperation.”

“Ultimately it comes down to staff,” he said. “There simply isn’t enough staff to work all of the posts that are required in these around-the-clock operations. As a result, the prisons rely all too often on costly overtime.”

Shaer said attrition remains an issue: Last fiscal year, 912 employees retired - 540 of them security staffers - while only 762 retirements were anticipated. Shaer said that of five cadet classes the department held last fiscal year, some 660 new correctional officers graduated, and others were hired to fill non-security vacancies.

Despite that, the department ended the fiscal year 158 positions below its authorized head count target for all employees.

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Information from: Southern Illinoisan, https://www.southernillinoisan.com

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