Staff shortage increases overtime at Minnesota prisons

Published 10:19 pm Monday, October 21, 2019

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Corrections almost doubled the overtime it paid prison staff in the past year because of a chronic staff shortage and concern for employee safety.

The state’s DOC data shows it paid $12.3 million for more than 262,000 hours of overtime during fiscal year 2019. Reports state that’s up from the year before when the DOC paid $6.9 million of overtime for 150,000 hours.

State Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said the agency increased its overtime use after two officers died last year.

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Corrections officer Joseph Gomm was allegedly bludgeoned to death by an inmate in Stillwater prison in July 2018. Officer Joe Parise died during a medical emergency two months later while responding to an attack on a colleague at Oak Park Heights.

Schnell said the deaths showed the dangers of understaffed facilities.

“We incurred a significant amount of overtime as a result of that,” Schnell said. “Everything that happens (in prison) requires security personnel, and that has been the place where we’ve had the biggest challenges.”

The DOC had 113 officer vacancies as of Sept. 17. A total of 240 corrections officers left during fiscal year 2019, making for a turnover rate of 12.4%.

About 80% of overtime pay last fiscal year reportedly went to nearly 2,000 corrections officers at the state’s 10 prisons.

Megan Weinzierl, a corrections officer, said while the extra pay is good, “it kind of breaks your mental health down.”

Despite the increase in overtime, Minnesota still spends less than neighboring state Wisconsin, which employs about 10,000 DOC workers to oversee more than 23,000 inmates. At its 21 prison facilities, Wisconsin paid staff $50.6 million in overtime in 2018.

Wisconsin is also facing a prison staff shortage, with about 20% of jobs unfilled.