SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – As Lackawanna County prepares for its 2018 spending plan, one commissioner believes overtime costs are way too high.
Eyewitness News has decided to look at the numbers.
County leaders say one of the biggest costs to taxpayers each year is the Lackawanna County prison.
Each year, it costs roughly $20 million to keep the prison open and running.
Overtime has become a growing issue but is there any way to prevent it?
“Can you explain why so much overtime is being utilized in the prison,” Commissioner Laureen Cummings asked at the October meeting of the Lackawanna County prison board.
The issue of overtime isn’t a new problem but one that is now coming under the microscope.
Taxpayers even say something needs to be done.
“The overtime at the prison has been a huge concern of mine because of my family members who end up working three double shifts a week!” Beth Ann Zero of Dunmore said.
Tim Betti, warden of the Lackawanna County prison, keeps a detailed accounting of overtime in two-week blocks.
During just the most recent pay period, prison workers earned a total of $81,587.11 in overtime.
That isn’t anywhere near the 2017 high of $129,454.22 for a two-week period in June.
Year-to-date, the Lackawanna County prison has already paid out more than $1,855,450 in overtime.
“It rips my heart out. Eighty-seven thousand dollars in a two week time frame? For overtime? It isn’t even what the commissioners make here. That’s what some people don’t even see in two years in salary! It’s shouldn’t happen!” Commissioner Cummings said.
The big question is: why are those numbers so high?
Don’t forget, it’s taxpayer money!
“I realize in the eyes of the public two million dollars for overtime, that’s a lot,” Betti said.
Warden Tim Betti says there are a lot of factors.
“Unlike in other industries, if I have somebody call off, I have to fill that shift,” Betti said.
The Lackawanna County prison currently has 180 correction officer positions in its budget but right now 13 of those workers aren’t on the job.
Eight positions are vacant.
Two people are out on worker’s compensation and three others are on administrative leave as the PA Attorney General’s Office looks into allegations of inappropriate inmate-staff contact.
“I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place at times and we do our best to stay within the budget!” Betti said.
Beth Ann Zero of Dunmore helped to form the NEPA Prison Advocates group this past spring.
With family members that work in the lock-up, she feels passionately about prison reform.
She believes the biggest impact of mandated overtime is on the employees themselves.
“I think they actually have become used to it and that’s kind of sad to expect to be working 16 hour shifts a few times a week when you’re trying to raise families,” Zero said.
Warden Betti understands those concerns.
“I understand if I had to work three doubles in a row I’m going to be pretty tired at the end of that third day, that’s rare!” Betti said.
The warden calls mandatory overtime a necessary evil of the prison system.
As you would expect, people “calling off sick” is an issue but a bigger problem is guards having to take inmates to the hospital for medical treatment.
“We don’t have a full fledged hospital here so they would have to go up there and we’d have to staff that with two officers around the clock while they’re there so that’s six overtime shifts a day just to watch one person up at the hospital,” Betti said.
Can anything be done?
In 2016, a prison board study committee recommended assigning sheriff’s deputies to guard prisoners at the hospital.
So far, that hasn’t happened.
“I’ve personally suggested that and kicked it around for thought and that’s something the sheriff, commissioners and president judge should discuss amongst themselves and decide what’s best,” Betti said.
Commissioner Cummings say she would like to see more part-time corrections officers hired.
“The whole situation needs to be looked at,” Commissioner Cummings said.
Prison advocates say every taxpayer should be concerned about the cost of overtime.
“I was astounded when I started going to the prison board meetings a couple months ago, just how much money they have in some of their funds and how much money goes to overtime. It’s really mind-boggling,” Zero said.
The following are overtime numbers in two-week time periods:
2015 OVERTIME TOTAL: $2,894,048.25
2016 OVERTIME TOTAL: $2,297,729.12
2017 OVERTIME TOTAL (TO DATE): $1,855,450.87