BALTIMORE (AP) — Overtime for Maryland prison workers has increased for yet another fiscal year amid what state lawmakers and union officials say is a staffing crisis.
Overtime payments rose to almost $130 million in the 2019 fiscal year, up from $110 million the year before, The Baltimore Sun reported Friday. In 2013, the prison system paid out $41 million in overtime, and data shows the spending has increased each year since then.
As overtime spending has increased, so has the department's vacancy rate, which rose from about 5% in 2013 to 20% last year.
Advocates say short staffing can create dangers for officers and inmates and lead to inadequate care and services for prisoners.
Gov. Larry Hogan says his administration is hiring people at a faster rate and argued that the problem has more to do with the nature of the job than a lack of desire to fill the jobs. But union officials say the understaffing is a cost-saving measure.
Maryland's prisons currently hold about 19,000 inmates.
Robert Green was hired as secretary of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services last year. He told the newspaper staffing is his “No. 1 priority.”
Green said he has streamlined the hiring process and started one-day hiring events across the state. He also said he's begun recruiting from Puerto Rico.
The governor has also authorized a 10% salary increase for correctional officers, who get a starting pay of about $43,000 a year.