In 2016, some of Pa.'s highest paid employees were prison guards

Written by Joel Shannon/The York Daily Record | Nov 13, 2017 6:15 PM

(York) -- Take a look at the list of top-earning state employees in Pennsylvania, and you'll find doctors, financial officers, administrators, politicians. And a lot of corrections officers.

In 2016, 66 state corrections officers amassed enough overtime and paid leave to make more than $125,676 - ranking them among the highest 1 percent of state employees, as listed by total earnings.

That's according to data provided by Pennsylvania's Office of Administration. The data includes compensation information for state employees under the governor's jurisdiction.

So much overtime

Thirty-eight hours of overtime a week: That's how much the 10 top-earning corrections officers worked on average, according to 2015-16 data from a Legislative Budget and Finance Committee report published in January.

And the highest earning corrections officer once logged over five weeks worth of hours in a two-week period during 2015, according to the report.

That's the equivalent of working nearly 110 hours in a week -- leaving less than 9 hours a day for sleeping and anything else off the clock.

All that overtime adds up.

In 2016, the highest earning corrections officer had a base salary of $42/hour -- a little less than $90,000 per year. But that individual's total income after overtime and paid leave was $284,731.35: The sixth-highest state salary, according to the data. 

For context, Gov. Tom Wolf makes $189,818 per year, according to the data, though he donates that salary to charity, according to a spokesman.

A perk of the job -- but things are changing

Top earners worked this volume of overtime voluntarily -- mandatory overtime accounts for a small minority of correction officers' overtime hours, according to Nicolette Bell, special assistant to the secretary of corrections.

"Overtime is probably one of the draws of being a corrections officer ... They know what kind of lifestyle this is, and if they're willing to go all in for it, they're going to make out," Bell said.

The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee's report also notes that many top overtime earners were near retirement. Bell said that those with seniority can often pick the most desirable shifts. 

Curbing voluntary overtime hours is a challenge at the state level, according to Bell. Scheduling policies are typically made at a facility level in conjunction with a union.

But the department is working on policies, like regulating the frequency of 16-hour days, at the statewide level.

"We're putting measures in place so that hopefully this doesn't ... continue," Bell said.

Officials have concerns

Statements from both the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association highlighted the challenges of working long hours as a corrections officer.

​"It's a hard lifestyle to get used to. I don't know how they do it," Bell said.

Even so, Bell says the department sees no link between officers who work more hours and rule infractions. 

She also said that some level of overtime will likely continue to be a part of correction officers' jobs.

A statement from the Corrections Officers Association goes one step further. 

"We'd like to see the state prisons staffed properly, so our officers who have one of the most dangerous and stressful jobs in the commonwealth can do their jobs without putting their life in jeopardy," PSCOA  president Jason Bloom wrote in an emailed statement.

Bell said that following the January report, which broadly looked at overtime practices in the department, scrutinizing overtime is a priority.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record. 

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