CONCORD - A chronic shortage of state prison guards factored heavily into seven employees in the Department of Corrections making more money in 2018 than Gov. Chris Sununu.
In fact, more than a dozen corrections officers and their superiors earned more than $70,000 a year in overtime alone during 2018, according to a New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News review of personnel records.
For almost a decade, the state has had difficulty filling these positions, in part because its pay rate is lower than nearby states.
A majority of the state employees who received the most overtime pay last year worked for the Department of Corrections. In almost every case, they made much more in overtime than in annual salary.
Leading the pack was Claudia Prescott, a corrections officer who earned $94,953 in overtime — twice her annual salary of $49,297.
All corrections officers hired to work in the state prison system must work overtime.
Jeff Padellaro, leader of the Teamsters Union that represents the workers, estimated the department needs another 200 officers to fill vacant positions and keep up with attrition.
The Concord prison complex has about 185 officers. A 2012 efficiency study concluded 377 are needed, he said.
The problem has become big enough that it came up in negotiations between Sununu and Teamsters Local 633, which represents state corrections officers.
Last week, Sununu and union officials reached a tentative agreement on the new contract. The deal includes two 4% pay raises.
More significantly, union and state officials agree, it would increase how much corrections officers will be paid for overtime.
Under the tentative deal, overtime that exceeds 16 hours a week would be paid at double time rather than time-and-a-half.
Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks said the change should help attract more new recruits.
In 2012, a Legislative Budget Assistant audit warned that security staffing levels in New Hampshire’s prisons were potentially unsustainable and that the department was becoming alarmingly reliant on overtime.
The same year, New Hampshire Legal Assistance brought a lawsuit on behalf of inmates incarcerated at the now-closed Goffstown women’s prison, claiming that chronic understaffing, among other issues, resulted in a serious lack of rehabilitative programming and activities compared to the men’s prison.
That lawsuit forced the state to construct a new, $50 million women’s prison, which opened this March in Concord, but even that accomplishment highlighted the ongoing staffing problem. The prison, scheduled to open in fall 2017, was delayed a year and a half because the DOC didn’t have enough corrections officers to staff it.
Padellaro said, “There’s a house of corrections in Middleton, Mass., over the border which has a waiting list of 900 who want to fill correction officer jobs because they pay so well by comparison. Here, of course, we have a deficit of staffing.”
Sununu, meanwhile, was the state’s 77th-highest paid employee in 2018, earning $133,600.
All told, 374 state workers made more than $100,000 last year.
Almost 100 of them broke that barrier based on overtime and special duty pay to law enforcement officers assigned to details such as monitoring state highway construction projects, the top extra-pay driver in 2018.
The detail work supplements the annual salaries of state troopers, which in many cases are lower than police officers’ base pay in New Hampshire’s large city police departments.
Eight state police employees were paid at least $40,000 apiece for special details last year.
Large overtime spending also took place in health care agencies for nurses and other staff working at New Hampshire Hospital in Concord, the Glencliff Home for the Elderly and the Veterans Home in Tilton.
Overtime pushed 15 state workers’ compensation past Sununu’s.
Most of those making more were in the judicial or medical fields. More than 50 of them were full-time judges, each of whom makes at least $153,300 annually.
The Supreme Court’s sitting justices and the administrative heads of the Superior and Circuit Courts made roughly $10,000 more than that, about $163,500.
Leading the state in compensation was Chief Medical Examiner Jennie Duval, at just under $210,000 a year.
Many others who made more than Sununu worked at state government-run health care institutions.
Across state government, the judicial branch had the most workers — 91 — making at least $100,000 a year.
The next-highest group was the Department of Corrections, which had only 10 employees with a salary of $100,000 but another 45 who surpassed that because of overtime payments.
Other agencies near the top in numbers of highly paid workers were the Departments of Health and Human Services (48) and Safety (39).
The New Hampshire Legislature had 24 employees who made at least $100,000 last year.
Only two in the Executive Department made that much — Sununu and his chief of staff Jayne Millerick ($101,000).
To search an index of state salaries, go to bit.ly/2q5AWyF.