Overspending on overtime

March 27, 2014 

Both Illinois prison administrators and the guards' union say they want to reduce overtime. But with $60 million spent on overtime last year, they've done a pretty poor job of it.

Some overtime is unavoidable, but $60 million worth makes it clear that state prisons are not being run efficiently or effectively.

The numbers help define the problems:

* $100,000 in overtime was spent covering the job of a sergeant at Menard Correctional Center in Chester, who was allowed to wear civilian clothes and work as the prison's union rep. The state allowed that to go on for two years, but after our reporter questioned it, the sergeant is now required to wear his uniform and be available for guard duty.

* $83,400 in overtime was spent at Stateville Correctional Center over the New Year's holiday. Workers called in sick 407 times over a period of just five shifts over two days. A Department of Corrections spokesman said this was an "unacceptably high number of call-ins." No kidding. But what did management do about it and what steps have been taken to prevent a recurrence?

And about all the overtime paid to cover leaves of absence: The state said the jobs of workers on leaves of absence require overtime, that replacements are not allowed. The union, however, said that replacements are allowed in many cases. So which is it? It's important to sort that out because Stateville has 107 positions open because of leaves of absence and Menard has 45.

If Gov. Pat Quinn wants to cut state expenses, here's an obvious place. Alas, there are no aggressive efforts to fix this money drain. A corrections spokesman predicted a $7 million decrease in overtime in 2014. That would leave $53 million in overtime, which would be better but still far too much.

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