By Bethany Jaeger
Gov. Pat Quinn plans to lay off as many as 1,000 prison workers at the same time a lengthy state audit reveals that overtime costs within the Illinois Department of Corrections increased from $19.2 million to $37 million two years ago because of staffing shortages.
The review by Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland’s office only pertains to fiscal years 2007 and 2008, when the corrections department was managed by a former director and under the administration of a former governor. Former director Roger Walker was appointed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Walker was replaced in June by Gov. Pat Quinn’s appointee, Michael Randle.
Holland said the deficiencies, including everything from spending more than authorized by the General Assembly to failing to spend money earmarked for hiring new frontline staff, does not paint a “pretty picture.”
“This goes to the heart of the failure of the management of the department,” he said, adding that because there have not been dramatic changes in the management since the two years in the audit, the foundation going forward is weak. “I think the new director has got some real soul searching to do with his management team.”
One problem cited in the audit was that the department violated the legislature’s intent by not spending extra money dedicated to hire new frontline staff. The General Assembly authorized spending $11.7 million to hire 231 new staff in fiscal year 2007, but only 154 new staff were hired. The next year, the legislature allotted $12 million to hire 500 new employees, but only six were reported as being hired. Instead, according to the audit, the department used the money to pay for existing staff, which also included more expensive overtime costs.
At the same time, the department reported that it lost 324 employees in fiscal year 2007 and 455 employees in fiscal year ’08.
The audit also states that mandatory overtime costs from inadequate staffing levels cost more money — overtime costs increased from $19.2 million in FY07 to more than $37 million the following year. The audit identified 126 employees working at various correctional centers that had worked so many extra hours during FY08 that they earned more $100,000, when their normal salary rates ranged from $40,000 to $75,000 a year. At Stateville Correctional Center, alone, overtime costs topped $13.7 million in FY08.
Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents many prison workers, said the most recent tab for understaffing at all Illinois prisons was more than $60 million in fiscal year 2009, which just ended June 30. “That’s a five-fold increase over just a few years ago,” he said.
“On its face it may seem counter intuitive,” Lindall added, “but it’s simple math that hiring new staff at the lowest end of the salary scale and paying them straight time is far cheaper than paying time and a half to more senior employees.”
According to the audit, the Blagojevich administration ordered the department not to hire new front line staff in fiscal year ’08.
“There were clearly directions from the Blagojevich administration that certainly did not help the day-to-day operations of the department,” Holland said. However, he added, 19 of the findings were repeated from the last two-year audit. And 28 new findings were added.
“These were not immaterial findings,” Holland continued. “These were findings of great significance that related from the top to the bottom of financial management of the Department of Corrections. And clearly it demonstrated that there was a failure on the part of the management of the Illinois Department of Corrections.”
Januari Smith, spokeswoman for the corrections department, said in an e-mail that the department already is looking to reduce overtime costs while also preparing for potential layoffs planned by Quinn. “A cadet class graduated from the academy last week and will be on the job soon. As well, another cadet class will begin in mid-August. Those staff affected by layoffs may be eligible for vacancies at other facilities across the state.”
Smith added that other corrective action is challenged by current budget constraints. “IDOC has limited resources and is working with antiquated systems. It’s a challenge to keep up with increasing requirements and a decreasing staff.”