SPRINGFIELD — — Illinois prison officials predicted last spring that employee overtime costs would drop last year, but a published report shows that the Department of Corrections paid more than $60 million for extra hours for the second year in a row.
The Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises reported Monday (http://bit.ly/1tNJHaS ) that the agency is blaming unexpected retirements of correctional guards and rising payroll costs tied to a contract agreement signed more than a year ago.
"That resulted in millions in would-be savings being eaten up by the difference in pay scales," Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer said.
Shaer added that the actual number of overtime hours worked dropped 12 percent in the budget year that ended June 30.
A spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents most Corrections workers, called the problem "systemic."
"Too many inmates and not enough staff," Anders Lindall said.
The Illinois prison system has struggled for years with overtime costs as its employee headcount has shrunk and inmate population grown. The prisons employed 17,000 people in 2002, a number that had dropped to 11,000 in 2012, even as the state had thousands of more prisoners.
Illinois Auditor General William Holland has reported that the last time overtime costs were in the same range as in 2013-14 was 2009, when the state paid out $53 million to correctional officers, nurses, and other facility workers who put in 1.2 million hours beyond their regular punch-out time.
Shaer said Corrections expected 762 workers to retire in the 2014 fiscal year but that 912 called it quits. He said the agency has money to hire new guards; a class of cadets is scheduled to graduate from training July 25.
Lindall said the dilemma is a good example of why the Legislature should vote to extend Gov. Pat Quinn's temporary, five-year income tax increase set to roll back in January. Quinn proposed that in his budget plan last spring, but lawmakers didn't go along and approved a budget that doesn't have enough money to last the entire year.