Inside job: Prisons’ OT pay reaches $22 million – Auditor says DOC got 38% of state government’s total overtime pay

Tom Wagner

Tom Wagner

DOVER — Delaware’s state auditor reported Monday the Department of Correction (DOC) gobbled up more than a third of the state’s total overtime pay in fiscal year 2016.

It’s on course to absorb the same — if not more — in fiscal year 2017.

The detailed DOC overtime analysis report, prepared by the state’s Auditor of Accounts Thomas Wagner, showed that three-quarters of DOC employees currently receive overtime pay.

Of the 2,082 DOC employees who received overtime in fiscal year 2016 approximately 21 percent of the total payroll was comprised of overtime pay. Those employees received about $73 million in regular salary, $9 million in other compensation, and $22 million in overtime — 38 percent of the total amount of overtime budgeted for state government.

Mr. Wagner said the magnitude of overtime payouts indicates an issue with employee salaries.

An aerial view of the James T. Vaughn Correctional on Paddock Road north of Smyrna. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“The most fascinating number in the report is the over $800,000 per pay cycle — every two weeks — that is paid in overtime by the DOC,” he said.

“I think when you look at that,” he added, “you see that an adjustment needs to be made in salaries to cut out a lot of that overtime by having more employees. Salaries are absolutely the core of the issue.”

Mr. Wagner, a Republican, believes that current DOC salaries are too low to recruit and maintain adequate staffing, which in turn has resulted in the high level of overtime.

He’s not alone in the assertion. Outspoken critics of DOC and Office of Budget and Management policies have been saying that salaries, particularly those of starting correctional officers, are too low.

Gov. John Carney’s budget proposal would see starting salaries rise to about $37,000, but that did little to slake the concern of most critics. Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware president, has said the proposed changes aren’t enough.

“The changes for Corrections in his budget were embarrassing,” he said. “We’re not going to make it through the summer. They’re not treating this as if it were a crisis. This is a crisis. They’ll find out this summer when we have another riot.

“It’s a $1,500 payraise when we can’t even get people to fill out an application now — it’s not enough. Surrounding states are paying much more and if someone can make $48,000 a year as a Lewes or Milford town cop, where do you think people are going to apply?”

Report findings

The auditor’s office had already been in the middle of an extensive state employee overtime review when the Feb. 1 inmate uprising at James. T Vaughn Correctional Center happened.

Mr. Wagner said the incident that resulted in the death of Lt. Steven Floyd persuaded him that the report needed to change gears to focus specifically on the DOC’s overtime to provide pertinent data to the governor’s assigned task force.

Gov. Carney’s Independent Review of the hostage incident, being conducted by former U.S. Attorney Charles Oberly and retired Judge William L. Chapman, is in the middle of producing a report of its own with findings and recommendations concerning DOC policy.

It is set to be completed by June 1, officials said.

The task force has received a copy of the auditor’s report.

“This report gives what we view as critical information to the governor’s task force so they can use it to inform their review,” Mr. Wagner said.

Among the state auditor’s findings in data pulled from FY 2016 and FY 2017, several items were highlighted:

• Over 75 percent of DOC employees received overtime pay

• JTVCC incurred the highest overtime cost of all DOC divisions

• The top five overtime earners received over 140 percent of their total regular pay in overtime

• The highest individual overtime earner in FY 2016 received over $76,000 in overtime

• The DOC paid an average of $838,839 per pay period in overtime during the period reviewed in Fiscal Year 2017

The state’s total overtime expenditure, across all departments, for FY 2016 was about $57 million. Almost $22 million of that was paid to the DOC, making it the top consumer of overtime funds — beating the Department of Safety and Homeland Security by almost $10 million. Partial data pulled from FY 2017 shows similar figures.

On top of thinking that it’s an inefficient way to run the DOC, Mr. Wagner believes the high level of overtime creates a public safety issue.

“It’s a safety concern for employees of the DOC, inmates and the general public,” he said. “A person can put in overtime in a work environment like that in the short run if they have to, but if that is your annual plan or just how you run your department?

“A body can really only do that for so long — you’re putting everyone at risk.”

Many DOC employees work 37.5 hour weeks, but correctional officers work 40-hours per week. According to DOC policy, employees are not to work more that 16 consecutive hours. After working that many in a row, they must wait a minimum of eight hours before working again.

In addition to these limitations, employees may not exceed 160 hours worked per two week pay period.

Governor’s office spokesman Jon Starkey said on Monday that Gov. Carney has yet to review the auditor’s report but is aware of the levels of overtime spending at the DOC.

“He is committed to lowering the amount of overtime across Delaware’s correctional system,” said Mr. Starkey.

“His budget includes a proposal to hire 50 new officers at JTVCC and 25 additional officers at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution.”

The full auditor’s report can be found at auditor.delaware.gov/ under “reports.”

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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