The average shift for a Vermont Corrections officer is known to be dangerous, stressful and unpredictable.
"Every day a correctional officer goes to work, he or she doesn't know if they'll work 8, 12, 16 hours that day," Dave Bellini said.
It's a shift Bellini knows well. He's worked for the Department of Corrections for 34 years. He says he's never seen the jails appropriately staffed and the long hours have driven officers to the extremes.
"Staff have slept in their cars because they're working 16 hours followed by 16 hours followed by 12 or 16 hours," Bellini said.
Many of these long days are due to forced overtime.
"There'll always be overtime in the corrections system because there'll always be something you didn't plan for, but the question that we need to answer though is $4 million the right size? It seems a little bit high," Vt. Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said.
The $4 million is what the department of corrections collectively pays its staff in overtime each year.
Three departments accounted for the majority of state overtime costs: Corrections, Public Safety and Transportation. Transportation in 2007 was $4 million in overtime alone; in 2011 it was closer to $3.5 million. Public Safety has remained steady at $3.5 million in overtime a year. Corrections costs the state $3.6 million in 2007 and has increased to just under $4 million. Together these three departments account for 70 percent of the state's overtime costs.
"I'd like to see the cap at 12 hours. I don't think you should work people more than 12," Bellini said.
Pallito says that will never happen.
"I think there's room for improvement," Pallito said. "I don't think there's need for wide-sweeping changes as a result of a few cases."
He agrees the system isn't perfect. But the overtime hours aren't always mandated, in fact many officers want to keep them the way they are.
"We have staff that choose to work consecutive shifts, senior staff. The odd thing is a lot of them enjoy the overtime, they enjoy the money," Pallito said.
There's no cap on the number of overtime hours a corrections officer can work. The state is asking for a national study of our corrections system to analyze how many workers would be appropriate.
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