weather icon Clear

Policy change could save Nevada prisons millions in overtime pay

Updated February 15, 2018 - 7:47 pm

Confronted by another year of rising overtime costs, Nevada’s top prison official axed a decades-old policy that required two officers to accompany prisoners to the doctor — a move expected to save $3.5 million in six months.

The overtime trend isn’t new for the Nevada Department of Corrections: Overtime costs for state correctional officers have skyrocketed 34 percent in the last two years, a recent audit revealed. The state paid $15.5 million in overtime costs in fiscal 2017 and $12.5 million the prior year.

Nevada prison officials say transporting prisoners to doctor appointments and to the hospital are to blame. The former policy required two correctional officers to accompany each inmate — and to stay with them the entire time, including overnight hospital stays.

“We’re not budgeted for watching inmates in the hospital,” said James Dzurenda, director of the Nevada Department of Corrections. “So when they stay overnight or get admitted, every single minute is overtime. You have someone who comes in for a DUI case that gets 13 months in prison, and we’re sending him to the hospital because he’s having a problem with his liver. He’s in there for five days. When you multiply that by two officers for each shift, that’s a lot of money.”

The new policy requires only one correctional officer per inmate and one officer to provide “relief” as needed — in case an inmate must be moved or taken out of restraints. If there are four inmates at the hospital, for example, five correctional officers would need to be there.

Inmates are taken to outside doctors and hospitals when the state prisons don’t have the resources in-house.

Dzurenda said inmates’ overnight hospital stays have tripled from two years ago. He’s not sure why.

Gene Columbus, a retired corrections officer and president of the Nevada Corrections Association, said soaring overtime costs aren’t solely because of the surge in hospital visits. He blames administrators for improperly scheduling officers and mismanaging resources — and, he said, they “should be held accountable.”

He said Dzurenda’s policy of assigning one officer per inmate is used in other counties and could work if officers are trained properly.

Dzurenda said three of seven state facilities have 24-hour medical staff — Northern Nevada, High Desert and Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center. The rest have “nursing care,” and inmates are often sent out to see a specialist or a doctor during off-hours.

“Just as medical resources in the community available to the public are scarce, NDOC also has limitations on the level of care it can provide to inmates,” said John Borrowman, the department’s deputy director of support services.

Ely State Prison isn’t near a hospital equipped to handle serious medical issues. Those inmates are flown with officers to Las Vegas for treatment — which means more overtime costs. Dzurenda said he’s moved inmates with serious medical or mental health conditions to facilities closer to medical care.

Dzurenda said that prison is also difficult to staff because of its location. But the audit, ordered by Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office, found no direct correlation between prison vacancies and overtime costs.

Ely and Lovelock correctional centers had the highest vacancy rates, the audit found, but lower average overtime hours. Florence McClure and Warm Springs, on the other hand, had some of the highest overtime hours per officer but the lowest vacancy rates. Nevada prisons house nearly 14,000 inmates.

The audit also found the department can cut costs by scheduling overtime based on actual hours worked, encouraging officers to volunteer for overtime and reassessing staffing levels.

Contact Ramona Giwargis at rgiwargis@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4538. Follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - Video
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - Video
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)