Nevada prison OT reduced dramatically in just one pay period
A month ago, auditors told the governor and members of the Legislature prison overtime was so out of control it could leave the department $22 million in the red in just year one of the biennial budget.
But with a team headed by Andrew Clinger of the governor’s office working with Corrections Department analysts, overtime for the pay period ended Friday is just a tiny fraction of what it has been.
“Friday is really the first pay period after they made changes and you can see it’s dramatic,” said Clinger, the governor’s senior adviser reporting to Chief of Staff Mike Willden.
The worst overtime numbers were from Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City and High Desert State Prison outside Las Vegas.
Gov. Brian Sandoval told corrections officials when the audit was presented the state simply couldn’t afford to make up that kind of a shortfall. Analysts said the only way to cover a $20 million shortfall would be a special legislative session to pump up the prison budget — a completely unacceptable answer to lawmakers facing an election year.
At NNCC, there were 3,403 paid overtime hours in the Jan. 12 pay period, 1,928 hours in the Jan. 26 period and 2,727 hours for Feb. 9. Those numbers cost the state $120,961, $62,555 and $93,360 respectively.
But with new rules in place as of the close of the Feb. 23 pay period, there were just 628 paid overtime hours at NNCC costing the state $24,465.
At High Desert, Nevada’s largest prison with more than 5,000 inmates, correctional staff collected 6,350 hours of OT totaling in the Jan. 12 pay period, 4,658 hours through Jan. 26 and 2,947 hours for the Feb. 9 period. Those bills cost the state $$217,066, $147,901 and $85,695 respectively.
For the Feb. 23 pay period, there were just 112 hours of OT at High Desert, costing $3,439.
There were similar deep reductions in overtime at other major correctional institutions in the state. At Lovelock, OT hours ranged from 2,736 hours to 1,545 hours before the changes. For this pay period, just 628 hours were reported and paid.
At the women’s prison in North Las Vegas, all three prior pay periods were more than 1,000 hours of overtime. For the Feb. 23 pay period, that number was just 43.3 hours costing only $1,485.
And at Ely State Prison, a remote institution that houses Nevada’s most dangerous inmates, OT hours were 3,091, 2,810 and 2,504 for the first three pay periods but just 160 hours costing $6,634 this latest pay period.
Clinger said the dramatic decrease in just one pay cycle was a surprise, especially since corrections officials say it hasn’t had a significant impact on operations.
“We wanted to make sure they weren’t doing things that were going to agitate the inmates and create a more dangerous situation for the correctional officers,” he said. “They said they haven’t seen that yet.”
He said he also was keeping a close watch to make sure the overtime reductions weren’t being shifted to increases in comp-time. Comp-time has gone down as well, according to the spreadsheet prepared by the state’s Human Resources Division.
But Clinger said the immediate and dramatic decrease raised eyebrows with the governor as well as himself: “The governor was asking if it was this easy, what were they doing before?”
The ultimate responsibility for controlling OT falls on Director of Corrections James Dzurenda and his wardens.
Dzurenda couldn’t be reached to answer that question for this story. He was in Connecticut.
Deputy Director John Borrowman who manages the department fiscal staff also was unavailable for comment. He took the brunt of the governor’s frustration at the January audit committee meeting but Clinger said Borrowman and his staff have been instrumental in putting together the plan that seems to be doing the job.
“As long as they keep overtime at the level they did this last pay period, that eliminates a huge chunk of that shortfall,” said Clinger.
He said his team and corrections officials including Borrowman are still finalizing how best to reduce the more than $10 million shortfall already accumulated by the prison system.
With overtime under control, vacancy savings could cut some of that debt, but Clinger said a major key will be shifting more money from the inmate welfare fund to cover medical expenses.
Medical transports and guard duty are one of the major drivers behind overtime since, until this past pay period, each hospitalized inmate had to have two officers guarding him each eight hour shift — a total of six officers on OT every 24-hour period. Dzurenda told lawmakers two weeks ago they were changing that requirement to reduce staffing while not compromising safety.
Clinger said there’s some $15 million in the inmate welfare fund, a sizeable portion of which can be used to offset medical transport costs. He said he doesn’t know why that wasn’t done before.
When all is done, he said, the final deficit could be as low as $3 million — a number the state can afford.
The question of how the overtime costs ballooned so far out of control still hasn’t been answered. In 2013, the governor and legislature agreed to add 125 more correctional officers to the prison staff to control overtime. But in every year since then, total OT has increased by more than 30 percent, according to the audit. In 2013, OT totaled $2.2 million. By 2017, it was $12.4 million.
“You can’t go on like this,” Sandoval told Borrowman at the January Audit committee meeting. “It (the state) is fiscally incapable of doing that.”