OT soars at youth prison
A state audit says workers made $818,231 in overtime during 2004-05
High job vacancies and a stressful work environment at Hawaii's sole youth prison have increased the use of sick leave and overtime to the point that employees made an additional $818,231 in fiscal year 2005, according to a state audit released yesterday.
The 27-page audit by state Auditor Marion Higa criticized finances and operations at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, highlighting problems with collection of salary overpayments, management of wards' trust accounts and compliance with procurement laws in fiscal year 2004-05.
The state auditor cited large amounts of sick leave and overtime among guards at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in fiscal year 2005:
» Sick leave: 5,995 hours among 54 corrections officers
» Overtime: $818,231
» One officer: Earned $44,845 in overtime compensation, exceeding the $36,494 in base pay
The findings delivered another blow to the Kailua prison, which has been scrutinized since 2003, when the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii issued a report alleging that youths were held in overcrowded, punitive and unsafe conditions. Similar issues resurfaced in an inspection of the prison by the U.S. Justice Department, but the facility dodged federal court oversight.
Martha Torney, acting executive director of the state Office of Youth Services, which oversees the facility, said the prison will develop a reporting system "to better manage overtime and sick leave, and track the potential for abuse."
The audit warned that lax controls at the prison leave room for misuse of sick leave, which amounted to 5,995 hours among 54 corrections officers in fiscal year 2005. The same group also collected $818,231 in overtime, while a single officer earned $44,845 in overtime compensation, exceeding the $36,494 in base pay.
Also, an analysis of payroll records at the prison revealed that as of June 30, 2005, when the average daily prison population was about 60 juveniles, 18 of 70 staff positions were either vacant or filled by temporary employees.
The staff shortage also contributes to overtime usage, according to the audit, which noted that some workers at the prison even admitted to taking advantage of sick leave when they "need a break."
"This condition could lend itself to higher levels of employee stress and turnover," the audit read. "The high level of overtime could also lead to sick-leave abuse, which is defined as taking sick leave when not actually sick."
According to Torney, who began her current post Dec. 1, when former HYCF Executive Director Sharon Agnew resigned, two of 11 vacancies were filled this month, and the office received commitments from at least three other job applicants.
The audit also found problems with collection of salary overpayments, which happen when employees are paid for absent days even though they had no sick leave, compensatory time or vacation. At the end of fiscal year 2005, two officers had $3,608 in overpayment balances while another worker had $148 collected from his pay.
Finally, the audit asked for improvements on how wards' trust accounts are handled and told the prison to adhere to state procurement laws by having certain contract documents available for public viewing.
In a letter to Higa, Torney said the prison would work with the state Department of Human Services Fiscal Management Office to improve oversight of salary overpayments and make several changes to ensure proper record keeping of wards' trust accounts.
It is unclear when those changes will be made. A telephone message left at Torney's office yesterday was not returned.
Last February, the state agreed to improve conditions at the facility in a deal with the Justice Department that kept the prison from being placed under federal oversight. The Justice Department, which described the prison as existing in a "state of chaos," made 18 recommendations for improving the facility.
As part of the agreement, Torney said the prison will employ a "cottage management system" in which separate corrections supervisors will oversee each of the prison's three housing areas. Her office is seeking more money from the Legislature to hire an extra supervisor and make a temporary worker permanent, she said.