It's no secret that overtime for corrections officers is a long-standing problem in Vermont.
"Staff have slept in their cars because they're working 16 hours followed by 16 hours followed by 12 or 16 hours," former corrections officer Dave Bellini told us in July.
Bellini spent 34 years of his life working for the corrections department. He says jails have never been adequately staffed, which means mandatory overtime.
"Every day a correctional officer goes to work, he or she doesn't know if they'll work 8, 12, 16 hours that day," Bellini said.
"The more stressful the environment, the more important it is to have a good amount of sleep and rest behind that," said Dr. Garrick Applebee of the Fletcher Allen Sleep Center.
Applebee says long shifts like Bellini's have been recently limited in the medical industry due to compromised care by sleep-deprived doctors.
"There's a number of landmark cases where it was clear physicians were working too many hours and clearly the lack of sleep specifically likely contributed to bad decision making," Applebee said.
Medical standards in 2003 were changed to cap shifts for residents at 24 hours and mandate 10-hour breaks between on-duty shifts. The state of Vermont has no such cap for state workers. A House bill proposed this session would cap hours for Vermont health care and nursing home workers at 40 hours a week. That bill never left committee. Bellini says his expectations are more realistic.
"I'd like to see the cap at 12 hours I don't think you should work people more than 12," he said.
Applebee says those on the road at work are the most vulnerable, like police officers working long hours alone in their cruisers.
"A number of studies show sleepiness can impair you as much as alcohol when it comes to driving a motor vehicle," Applebee said.
Still, the department of public safety and corrections consistently rack up the most hours of overtime each year, and as hours spike, so does cost. In 2000 the state spent $11.2 million in overtime, this year that number rose to $20 million.
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