Nebraska’s state prisons and Regional Centers are requiring more mandatory overtime of their staffs than ever before, due to short staffing.

Lincoln Senator Anna Wishart wants to solve Nebraska’s prison staffing shortage with her bill, LB-345, which would ban mandatory overtime in the state’s prisons and secured mental health facilities.

“Our state correctional facilities, including our secured mental health facilities,” Wishart said, “are operating at a historically unprecedented staffing situation that has reached what I would consider a crisis level.”

Wishart told the Legislature’s Government Committee that the state paid for 38,000 hours of overtime per month in 2018, at an extra cost of $13.3 million.

The increased mandatory overtime has a potential of causing many health problems that were laid out before the committee by Senator Wishart: “Prolonged overtime can cause decreased alertness, increased fatigue, low cognitive function, increased injuries, a period of extreme tension and anxiety, gastro-intestinal pain or discomfort, and chest pain.”

Other witnesses said the main problem is the wages the state is willing to pay its guards, which are much lower than many county jails. The low wage has caused an increased turnover rate as well, at 34%.

Jim Maguire, President of the Fraternal Order of Police, says the high turnover rate among guards is dangerous and expensive: “You have to pay somebody $5,792.82 to go through training, and then after that, 40% of every person that you hire within the first year is going to leave. What a waste.”

Maguire said banning overtime is a drastic measure, but is needed to force the state to pay competitive wages for its prison guards.