Illinois Prisons See Spike in Overtime Pay

SPRINGFIELD — According to a new report by the Associated Press, Illinois prison staff made approximately $62 million in overtime pay in the fiscal year ending in June 2013. Though prison officials say this number has already dropped by roughly 22 percent since July, the figure still marks a 34 percent increase over the previous year, and is the highest since 2007.

This overtime spike is largely credited to Governor Pat Quinn’s decision to close both the Tamms supermax prison in southern Illinois and the Dwight Correctional Facility. The move was intended to reduce prison spending, but instead resulted in an unsuccessful lawsuit brought against Gov. Quinn by the AFSCME.

The group filed the suit in an attempt to keep both facilities open; citing the state’s already crowded correctional population. However, prison administrators say the suit forced them to place newly hired workers in vacant positions over current employees. AFSCME Spokesman Anders Lindall countered that the union did offer to set aside contract rules that inhibited new hiring during the suit.

Though the price tag for these increased overtime hours has many lawmakers concerned, Frank Turner, president of the AFSCME, is focused on security. “It’s not so much the overtime as it is the safety and security of the staff here. With people working overtime, it’s harder to stay focused.” Lindall added that the AFSCME had also proposed solutions offering the department “added flexibility to reduce the dangers posed and costs incurred by lack of staff in its facilities.” In response, Corrections Spokesman Tom Shaer said that claiming too much overtime was “a shameful scare tactic which ignores the safe and cost-efficient management of our prisons.”

Despite the 2012 closure of the Tamms and Dwight prisons, which resulted in the transfer of correctional officers and inmates to facilities around the state, the influx of new staff did not decrease overtime pay. For instance, Pontiac Correctional Center, which received a number of violent offenders from Tamms, still saw overtime expenditures double.

However, both Shaer and the AFSCME agree that the noticeable increase in overtime requests can also be attributed to the increase of inmates in the system. Both say more officers should be hired to address this rising population. However, the state’s budget shortfalls are currently prohibiting extensive hiring. Shaer adds that though overtime hours are voluntary, employees often opt to stay at work rather than leave colleagues short staffed.

Though the Illinois prison system and budget are already stressed, lawmakers are preparing for the influx of an estimated 4,000 extra inmates over the next decade. The rise is anticipated as a result of harsher firearms sentencing legislation being pushed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.