After auditors reported Nevada’s prison system is $15 million in the red because of skyrocketing overtime, Gov. Brian Sandoval directed executive auditors to move in with the department to fix the problem.
“Right now the department is $15 million over budget,” said Sandoval during the executive branch audit committee meeting this week.
He said corrections is on track for a $22 million shortfall in just the first year of the biennium.
“Where is the state supposed to find that money because it will completely deplete the contingency fund?” he said.
John Borrowman, deputy director of support services, said part of the problem is the need to fill vacant posts — increasingly caused by correctional officers having to transport inmates to outside medical services. He said they’ve seen a substantial increase in the amount of medical days, each requiring two officers per inmate per eight-hour shift to guard them and dramatically increasing the amount of overtime.
He said the overtime isn’t controllable in many cases because it takes six shifts by guards to cover just one hospitalized inmate for 24 hours.
Overtime within the Department of Corrections has increased more than 30 percent a year since 2015 despite the fact the governor and lawmakers approved adding some 125 more correctional officer positions to try to get a handle on the problem.
Borrowman said the problem is when a correctional officer post is vacant, they have no choice but to call someone in, even if it means overtime, for safety and security reasons.
Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt both pointed out there are allegations officers are “gaming the system,” with one taking leave or sick time so his buddy can work it for overtime. Then the buddy returns the favor later in the same pay period, resulting on both getting overtime pay.
Borrowman said he agrees some officers are doing just that: “You cover my shift, I’ll cover yours and we’re both paid overtime for the same number of hours.”
Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison said one problem is time off is counted as part of the 40-hour week. He suggested changing regulations so overtime starts after an employee has worked 40 hours without counting time off toward the point where overtime begins.
The audit report says the overtime problem is most acute at Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City and High Desert State Prison in the south — both of which are nearly fully staffed and not short of officers. They recommended the department make changes in scheduling to sharply reduce overtime.
Borrowman said that’s partly because those two facilities are home to the most medically needy inmates and have many more transports to area hospitals and other medical services.
He said tighter scheduling will be much easier to accomplish once the department has newly approved software to handle scheduling of officers but Sandoval said the state can’t afford to wait.
“You can’t go on like this,” he told Borrowman. “It (the state) is fiscally incapable of doing that. The response I’m hearing is you want a blank check and we don’t have a blank check.”
Sandoval said Borrowman needs a plan to fix the problem and “I haven’t heard a plan.”
He said his solution is to ask the audit staff to put someone in the Department of Corrections to begin working on reducing overtime immediately.