The Connecticut Capitol Building in Hartford. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

The state of Connecticut paid out nearly $266 million in overtime compensation to its public employees during the last fiscal year, according to an Office of Fiscal Analysis report that found the Correction Department leading in overtime payments.

All told, overtime costs at Executive Branch agencies grew by 10.9% in the past year, the 4th quarter overtime report found.

Five state agencies – the departments of Correction, Mental Health and Addiction Services, Developmental Services, Emergency Services and Public Protection, and Children and Families – accounted for more than 92% of state employee overtime payments in the last two years. 

The report notably did not include overtime paid to employees of the University of Connecticut, which does not always utilize the same payroll software as most other agencies.

The increased overtime costs come as state government works to fill the nearly 7,000 positions that were vacant across Executive Branch agencies as of the end of June. In a statement, Lora Rae Anderson, a spokesperson for the governor’s office and Administrative Services Department, said the state continued to boast strong hiring numbers and had the highest number of employees since 2016.

“We are continuing our focus on recruitment for high-need jobs, particularly in direct care,” Anderson said. “This is truly a cross-agency effort that utilizes new technology, and long-standing community relationships. The State is an incredibly impactful and mission-driven place to work, and we look forward to on-boarding more employees soon.”

The Correction Department paid out more in overtime compensation than any other single agency. During Fiscal Year ‘22, DOC workers made more than $94.3 million in overtime, a 2.9% increase over the previous fiscal year. 

The state’s prison system employed 5,032 people at the time of the report, making it the largest state agency not part of the public higher education system. While Connecticut’s public sector has experienced heightened turnover as a result of a surge in retirements ahead of benefit changes that took effect in July, the DOC ranks remained roughly stable over the two year period. The agency employed 4,999 people in FY ‘21, according to the OFA report.

However, there were roughly 600 vacancies in the department as of the end of June and employees of the DOC and other agencies have complained of a growing reliance on mandatory overtime shifts resulting in 16-hour workdays.

Meanwhile, the population of incarcerated people has grown significantly during the last year. In July of 2021, there were 9,060 men and women in Correction Department custody. This July, there were 10,000. 

That increase in the supervised population has been accompanied by an increase in the number of assaults on staff members. According to statistics compiled by the agency’s Operations Division, there were 51 staff assaults during the last quarter, a growth of 27.5% over the previous quarter. 

Meanwhile, incarcerated individuals have been assaulting each other in growing numbers. There were 95 inmate assaults in the last quarter, 21.8% higher than the previous three month period. 

Responding to questions about a recent brawl at Corrigan Correctional Center, Gov. Ned Lamont said the department needed more officers on the payroll.

“First of all, what we need is more corrections officers,” Lamont said Tuesday. “We’ve hired about 100 new corrections officers in the last few months and we’ll hire another 100 in the next few months.”

The next leading agency in overtime payments was the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, where the state paid $53.6 million in the last fiscal year. The number represents a 5.3% growth in overtime. 

In the past year, DMHAS saw its total staff grow by 202 employees to 2,518 workers. However, it had more than 800 vacancies at the end of June. 

Last month, a group of the agency’s unionized employees demonstrated outside DMHAS headquarters in Hartford, saying current staffing levels had proven inadequate to treat a swell of need for addiction and mental health treatment in the aftermath of the pandemic. Workers said staffing vacancies had led to mandatory overtime shifts and resulted in providers turning away clients in need. 

In addition to DOC and DMHAS, the Developmental Services Department paid out $42.9 million in overtime compensation, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection paid $37.9 million, and the Department Children and Families paid $17.6 million in overtime. All three numbers represent a growth over the previous fiscal year.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the coalition of labor unions representing state workers said the rising overtime hours could have potentially dangerous consequences.

“These OT numbers continue to climb every quarter but they represent more than mandated double and triple shifts and more taxpayer dollars, they represent Connecticut residents missing out, workers burned out and dangerous situations playing out,” Drew Stoner, spokesperson for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, said. “Short staffing is a crisis that has both safety and financial consequences and without immediate action we continue to ring the alarm that something tragic will happen to a Connecticut resident.”