SPRINGFIELD -- A new report shows understaffing within the state prison system resulted in nearly $50 million in overtime costs in 2008.

The figure compiled by Auditor General William Holland in a lengthy and critical audit is more than double what the Illinois Department of Corrections spent on overtime costs in 2006 and foreshadows a potentially more expensive situation facing the agency in the current fiscal year.

With Gov. Pat Quinn threatening to impose furloughs and lay off hundreds of prison guards because of a massive budget shortfall, overtime costs could skyrocket again as workers step forward to fill in for their absent colleagues.

"It's inevitable," said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which represents prison employees.

The administration says it's aiming to actually reduce overtime costs to about $31.9 million by hiring as many as 220 guards at the same time Quinn is considering layoffs.

Corrections spokeswoman Januari Smith said a cadet class of more than 100 guards graduated Friday and a new class will begin training in about a week.

According to the audit, the department violated the intent of the General Assembly in 2007 when instead of hiring an additional 231 frontline workers, it paid existing employees to cover the staffing needs at various prisons.

The department, then overseen by Corrections Director Roger Walker, said it was under orders from Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration to not hire any rank-and-file workers.

The audit shows that the overtime costs have resulted in 126 employees making over $100,000 when their normal salary rate would pay them between $40,000 and $75,000 annually.

AFSCME contends it would be cheaper for the state to hire additional workers than to pay existing guards overtime.

"The staff shortage has led to runaway overtime costs," Lindall said.

In May, the Quinn administration agreed with AFSCME to work to reduce overtime in the coming year.

But, it remains unclear how that can be achieved if furloughs and layoffs are imposed by the governor as part of his budget-cutting plan.

One option to deal with a staff shortage would be to reduce the number of prisoners needing to be guarded. Quinn's budget office has suggested that as an option. Smith said the idea remains under review.

The full audit report can be found here: http://www.auditor.illinois.gov/Audit-Reports/Compliance-Agency-List/Corrections/FY08-Corrections-Dept-Fin-Comp-Full.pdf

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