Staffing shortages at Missouri’s prisons are driving overtime costs through the roof. The department spent $9 million on overtime in 2015, more than double that in 2016, and is on pace to spend about $17 million this year.

State Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, speaks on the Missouri House floor in September 2017 (photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

The size of the staff working in Missouri’s more than 20 prisons is shrinking at the same time the inmate population tops 33,000. The department faces about 500 open correctional officer positions – raising red flags about safety. Some guards are being bused to other facilities to help fill the void.

State Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, tells Missourinet affiliate KREI in Farmington that increasing correctional officer pay would help to relieve overtime.

“They’re not competitively paid in their markets and therefore we are always shorthanded. When we’re shorthanded, we have to have people work overtime and they get time-and-a-half,” says Engler. “It’s not a pleasant work environment and then you’re not given a choice. You can’t go home because we can’t let prisoners out. We can’t just give everybody the night off because offenders have to be guarded.”

Engler says the issue will be discussed during the next session.

“You wouldn’t do that in private business. You’d figure out a way to figure a way to not have people getting time-and-a-half,” says Engler. “The corrections officer, for the most part, do not want forced, mandatory double shifts. We’d like to accommodate both by just paying them a little more and then we could solve the problem.”

Missouri has the lowest paid state workers in the nation.

Engler’s district includes the Farmington Correctional Center.

Luke Turnbough of Missourinet affiliate KREI in Farmington contributed to this story.