Hiring doesn’t halt overtime

House of Correction adds more correctional officers but costs still up

Despite progress in filling vacancies at the Milwaukee County House of Correction, staffers there continue to pile up overtime at a heavy pace.

Through April, House of Correction overtime was just over $1.1 million, gobbling up nearly all the $1.4 million that was budgeted for the entire year, county figures show.

A larger and perhaps growing inmate population this year is driving fears that 2008 overtime costs could meet or beat last year’s record $4.25 million overtime tally, especially if aggressive summer policing yields a larger crop of convicts.

“That’s on a pace for another record-setting year,” said Supervisor John Weishan Jr. He said new hires and reforms at the House of Correction haven’t been adequate.

Continued high overtime costs suggest more positions should be added to the House of Correction staff, he said. County Auditor Jerome Heer also recommended adding 23 correctional officers to the staff of 338.

The House of Correction in Franklin had 1,920 inmates as of Friday, or about 130 more than much of last year.

Jeffrey Mayer, spokesman for the House of Correction, said he was confident the lockup could handle the inmate flow. If inmate numbers continue to rise, more inmates would be shifted to the downtown work-release center or placed on electronic monitoring, Mayer said.

“It’s always a challenge but we are prepared to meet that challenge,” he said.

Aggressive efforts to recruit correctional officers have resulted in filling the four dozen vacancies that figured in last year’s big overtime costs, officials said. Those vacancies also contributed to forced overtime, staff morale problems and heavy use of family leave and sick time, according to a county audit.

Use of family medical leave has declined as a result of the new hires, House of Correction Superintendent Ron Malone said. Nonetheless, large numbers of employees continue to use family leave, a benefit that some say overworked correctional officers have used as a backdoor way of getting time off.

About 37% of employees have used family leave time off so far this year and more than half of the 338 correctional officers have called in sick on average during each of the first four months of 2008, according to figures compiled by House of Correction officials.

While some problems persist at the lockup, Malone said there has been solid progress in addressing staffing, morale and safety concerns raised in a pair of audits last year.

Several House of Correction staffers, however, told supervisors last week during a hearing of the County Board’s Personnel Committee that morale remained low. Administrators are quick to punish staff and unreceptive to pleas for airing staff concerns, they said.

“They bully you . . . they make our lives miserable out there,” said Sandy Biscontine, a correctional officer. He and others objected to a management policy in which even legitimate sick days off can result in disciplinary action. Employees are verbally warned after calling in sick four times in a year, given a written reprimand after the fifth sick day and formally disciplined for taking six or more sick days.

That’s an unfair policy because the county provides 12 sick days a year as part of its benefit package, said Penny Secore, a union official representing correctional officers. It’s no wonder use of family leave is so high at the House of Correction, she said.

At the hearing, Supervisor Mark Borkowski scolded Malone, saying he had offered excuses rather than real change.

“If you think, Mr. Malone, that we have made significant progress then you and I are living on a different planet,” Borkowski said.

County Executive Scott Walker threatened to fire Malone this spring unless he fixed problems raised in the audits, including security lapses and management shortcomings. Though Walker has not yet said if he’ll reappoint Malone to his post for another four years, the county executive has praised Malone’s progress in addressing the problems.

source: http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=752166


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