Director of Corrections James Dzurenda promised lawmakers major changes to reduce or eliminate out of control overtime in the department.
Overtime became a huge issue less than two weeks ago when auditors reported the prison system had run up a $15.5 million deficit in just the first half of this fiscal year and was on track to hit more than $22 million in the red by the end of June.
Gov. Brian Sandoval said at the time the state simply can’t afford that kind of budget over-run.
Dzurenda told lawmakers on the Interim Finance Committee on Thursday he’s implementing a plan that should cut that overtime bill to just under $3 million and, he said, possibly zero.
Overtime at the department has spiraled out of control since 2013 despite the fact the governor and lawmakers approved adding 120 more correctional officers. In 2013, it was some $2.2 million. By 2017, it was $12.4 million.
Dzurenda said just six months into this fiscal year, “the shortfall was obvious to us and at that time we should have been working with (LCB) fiscal and the governor’s office.”
“Steps should have been taken months ago but were implemented in January,” he said. “We do understand that we own this.”
He said he’s dramatically reducing the reasons for granting overtime and he will receive weekly reports identifying all overtime and the justifications for it.
“Right now there are over 20 reasons. That doesn’t make sense to me. There should only be one reason for overtime.”
Dzurenda laid out a plan that includes a major rewrite of how inmates are classified for security reasons and an elaborate game of musical chairs to move them around while Unit 8 at Southern Desert Correctional Center is remodeled to accommodate 400 dangerous inmates.
He said the department is getting a bit of a break as the inmate population has fallen by 365 since December. He said fewer inmates are being sentenced to prison and that programs to help inmates make it on the outside have released more people than in the past.
“There are less offenders coming in our front door and more offenders going out our back door,” he told the committee.
He said that has enabled the remodel of Unit 8 to start this coming week instead of waiting until summer. He said changing the custody classification system will allow him to move more inmates to minimum security beds that are currently vacant, freeing up mid-level beds for other inmates.
Dzurenda said another 100 beds were freed up by moving 30 youthful offenders out of the “boot camp” unit and into the Casa Grande transitional center.
“No one around the country says boot camp does anything,” he said. “It’s a waste of space.”
He said that let him move 100 inmates into those beds, further reducing overcrowding in the system.
Dzurenda said he’s also eliminating programs he said may feel good but do nothing to better prepare inmates for their return to society.
He said he will concentrate on “evidence based” programs that actually do reduce recidivism, victimization of society, to make sure those inmates don’t return to prison.
Finally, he said the rules are now changed to reduce the number of correctional officers who accompany inmates on hospital and other medical trips. Historically, that has required two officers per inmate. Now, he said there will be just one officer per inmate patient plus one extra officer to help cover breaks and moving inmates. So if four inmates are at the hospital, instead of eight guards for each of three shifts in a 24-hour period, there will be just five officers per shift, sharply reducing overtime.
Lawmakers said they would have staff keep a close eye on how well Dzurenda’s plan works.
The committee also approved moving nearly $1.2 million in the Parole and Probation budget to the Offender Tracking Information system replacement project.
But they did so over the objections of Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, who said a large chunk of that cash is coming out of personnel services which pays salaries of P&P staff.
The rest, she said, is coming out of the equipment category that may be needed to replace outmoded or malfunctioning equipment the officers need.
She said some veteran officers are “supervising folks that make more than they do” and this money could go to raise their pay.
Public Safety Director Jim Wright told her he doesn’t think he has the latitude to do that with that money. Carlton disagreed and said she would vote against the transfer despite testimony the funding is needed to implement the new offender tracking system.
Carlton’s husband Merritt is a DPS Officer 1 with P&P.