Overtime costs reduced at Ohio prisons

Staff overtime costs for Ohio’s prison system, the state’s largest agency, declined more than 13 percent from 2008 to 2012, dropping from $68.5 million to $59.4 million, according to a new report from a watchdog group.

Use of overtime declined from 2008 to 2012 in 20 prisons, including Dayton Correctional Institution, London Correctional near Springfield and the two Lebanon prisons, Lebanon and Warren Correctional, while it increased in five, said the study released last week by the state legislature’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee. The report is based on information provided to the committee by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Overtime in the $1.7 billion prison system declined nearly 19 percent from the peak year of 2009, when it was $73.3 million, the report said.

“All overtime is not avoidable” in a system that requires 24-hour staffing to house 50,000 inmates, said department spokeswoman JoEllen Smith. But “we’re certainly pleased with the reduction and we expect it will continue.”

The department has been tracking each prison’s use of overtime on a computerized “dashboard” since 2011, and cutting overtime costs has also been tied to wardens’ performance evaluations since then, Smith said.

The committee’s report said overtime costs from 2008 to 2012 dropped from $2.8 million to $2.25 million at Lebanon Correctional, from $2.35 million to $2.05 million at Warren Correctional, and from $2.9 million to $1.8 million at London Correctional. In 2008, overtime costs totaled $1.55 million for Dayton Correctional and neighboring Montgomery Education and Pre-Release Center, which were then separate prisons. They merged in 2010. In 2012, the overtime for the merged prison was $1.18 million.

The department said average amount of overtime per employee is down system-wide, dropping 18 percent from a peak of nearly $4,000 in 2009 to $3,290 in 2012, Smith said. “So, not only have we decreased total overtime, but individual employees are having to work less of it.”

But officials of the Ohio Civil Services Employee Association, the union representing many prison workers, said the data are skewed because they don’t include all employees. The union’s figures show that prison overtime dropped from $70.6 million in 2008 to $60.6 million in 2012. But because of total staff cuts during the period, the per capita overtime figure dropped by a much smaller amount, from $5,199 to $5,091. Union officials said they based their analysis on numbers previously reported by the department.

“We still have these incredibly overcrowded prisons, these incredibly understaffed prisons,” said OCSEA spokeswoman Sally Meckling. “Our folks are still working considerable (required) overtime. We think (the report) is just a distraction. Statistically and on the ground, there’s no measurable difference.”

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