Mar 24, 2015 9:24 PM

NH1 News Investigates Pricey Prisons: NH Department of Corrections' overtime pay

It's one of the largest agencies that relies on the state budget, and they get a large piece of the pie.

The N.H. Department of Corrections is asking for more money over the next two fiscal years, and a surprising amount of that is to cover overtime wages.

That money is taxpayer dollars, and some wonder why the prison is spending millions on overtime when they could make more hires instead.

In the most recent available documents, it was found that 70 employees in the corrections department made more than $20,000 in overtime in 2013, according to Transparent NH.

One lieutenant's regular salary is $59,000. But he makes nearly $65,000 on top of that in overtime wages, making his total earnings $128,000.

How does this happen? And why does the department expect the situation to get worse? That's what we found out.

It's 6:50 a.m., and the next class of corrections officers are wrapping up their morning workout. It's just one part of their training, followed by a day of classroom work.

Just down the road, at the New Hampshire State Prison, seasoned officers patrol the yard. Some days, the shifts are filled, but most officers are asked, even required at times, to work two shifts in a row, 16-hour days.

In 2014, the overtime budget weighed in at a whopping $6.9 million. In 2015, it is projected to be $8 million.

NH1 News pulled the latest available numbers of all state agencies, and among the top 15 earners pulling in overtime numbers, 14 of them work the department of corrections.

Jeff Lyons, the department's public information officer, said there are approximately 2,700 inmates statewide. As for those who watch over them, there's 60 vacancies at any given time.

Captain Ronald Gagliardi has been with the department for more than 18 years. He says safety for prisoners and officers is a top priority and a staffing shortage puts that in jeopardy.

"When everybody is aware and alert, then we're at our safest level," Gagliardi said. "It's when people are tired and people have been forced that, of course, now that's a concern for us. There are circumstances where we have to force people to do the overtime shifts."

So why is there such a shortage? There are a few answers - depending on who you ask.

Lyons says they lose around 10 employees each month, and the department is relying on current officers to handle recruiting. On top of that, 55 employees are eligible for retirement this year.

Meanwhile, Gov. Hassan's office is pointing a finger at the budget battle, saying by removing cost-of-living, house republicans are undermining our efforts to fill the positions necessary to reduce overtime.

Republicans say they want to reduce spending and shrink the current budget.

It's hard for the citizens to put money into a department of corrections because I think a lot of people still have that mentality of lock them up and throw away the key.

But Gagliardi says funding is critical because of the programs offered to prisoners.

"Most inmates are paroled out and they max out, so they're not doing life, so where are they going, they're going into communities, your communities," he said.

Changing lives is something these ambitious recruits says attracted them to the job, despite the long hours.

The department of corrections and Gov. Hassan's office say they're continuing to address the staffing challenges and they are increasing recruiting efforts as best as they can.

As for whether the department's proposed spending plan will pass, that will be decided in June, when the budget is required to be completed.

See a complete list of overtime paid to workers in the department of corrections in 2013 (the most recent data available).

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