Some state employees at the state-run jail for juvenile offenders are being forced at times to work 18 consecutive hours in the wake of 106 layoffs, state officials told the state panel that oversees juvenile justice Thursday.
“Our desire is to bring back some of those laid-off staff to fill those vacancies,” Fernando Muñiz, deputy commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, told the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee.
Before staff can be brought back, the governor’s Office of Policy and Management would have to sign off. GianCarl Casa, spokesman for the office, said, “We’re working to balance the needs of all our agencies, collective bargaining agreements and our budgetary constraints. We don’t yet know what the solution will be.”
The recently adopted state budget assumes more then $250 million will be saved by laying off state employees and not filling positions as they become vacant. To date, 680 state employees have been laid off, though many more layoffs are expected. Union leaders have said that nearly 5,000 state employees would have to be laid off to achieve the level of savings in the budget.
When staff at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School were laid off earlier this year, the administration said it would not impact operation of the school. That, they said, was because the number of inmates typically at the facility had dropped – to the low 40s from 160 two years earlier – while the number of employees had stayed the same. The school houses juveniles who commit crimes not serious enough to be transferred to the adult criminal justice system.
Thursday, in response to questions, Muñiz confirmed that some employees at the Middletown facility were being forced at times to work mandatory triple shifts. He said that the employees typically did not have to work the entire third shift and were allowed to leave a couple of hours into that shift.
Muñiz did not quantify how many employees were asked to work the long shifts or how many such shifts were mandated.
Staff at CJTS are complaining on social media about the long hours.
“So I guess as long as you pay them it’s okay to force CJTS employees to work 22, 23, 24 (and up) hours…” Suzanne Borner, a teacher at CJTS, tweeted Wednesday.
“That is of grave concern to me. You are looking at burnout. Not because they don’t care – because they are tired,” Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, told the deputy commissioner of DCF Thursday.
Heavy use of overtime raises a number of questions, including whether it is cost-effective and whether it over-stresses staff, making them less effective in managing difficult situations with inmates.
A review by the Connecticut Mirror before the layoffs found that numerous youth service officers, who are the front-line staff members responsible for maintaining order and security at CJTS, were working such long hours they had more than doubled their income. In some instances, incomes topped six figures after factoring in overtime pay.
The culture and conditions of confinement at the state-run jails have been the focus of added scrutiny by state lawmakers in recent months after a state watchdog released an investigation that concluded staff were “unlawfully” restraining youth and putting them into seclusion.
The debate about whether the facility has enough staff to operate comes as the administration works to close the facility by July 2018. Muñiz said the department plans to have a preliminary plan by next moth for closing CJTS and providing alternative placements and services that for youths now sent there.