Taxpayer tab rising as Missouri Department of Corrections defies court judgment

The Department of Corrections is defying a court order to pay Corrections’ Officers the minute they walk in the door. The State maintains the time clock doesn`t start ticking until officers reach their post. That means officers first must get safety equipment, go through checkpoints and gather intelligence for their shift. They`re not paid until they reach their post and the lost time adds up to about 2.5 hours a week per officer. Fox 2 was the only member of the media in the courtroom during a landmark trial this summer, that led to a multi-million-dollar judgment. Now months later, the clock is still running. It’s adding to a $113.7 million tab to taxpayers that's rising with interest by the second. It’s backpay for officers. The amount varies for each officer, depending partly on their years of service. For one C.O. it means $34,000.

Attorney Gary Burger said, “You can`t make people work and not pay them for it.”

Burger and his co-counsel Michael Flannery helped get the judgment from a Cole County jury. It included a court order that the Department of Corrections begin keeping track of all time worked.

Burger explained, “The Department of Corrections won`t use time clocks despite complaints and requests for it for years. Do they have to respond and act as if they`re on duty? Yes. Are they paid for it? No.”

Nothing appears to be changing, despite Burger's contention that prisons already have an identification scan in place. He said, “All you have to do is click one yes or no toggle on the computer system and it implements a time clock system as well.”

Reporter Chris Hayes followed up, “It`s not clicked?”

Burger responded, “It`s not clicked. They don`t use it for that.”

Hundreds of officers are giving up on Missouri doing the right thing. Since June, internal D.O.C. records show vacancies have risen from 586 to nearly 900 open positions for officers.

Former Lt. Lawrence Slape says he had to quit because of the way administration is forcing double shifts. Slape said, “I actually had to call a Major and say hey, I can`t get anybody to stay. He says well we can lock all the doors and not let anybody leave. I said let`s not go that far, but I mean that was an option at that time.” Reporter Hayes followed up, “To treat the C.O.’s like prisoners?” Slape responded, “Yes because we have to have a minimum staff there.”

Fox 2 learned officials did reportedly lock doors on C.O.’s trying to leave their shifts recently in Bonne Terre. A supervisor wrote about it, adding “my officers have been working 3-4 doubles a week. (They're) getting written up and harassed for not staying.”

Bill Vallier recently left his position as head of all C.O.’s at Algoa in Jefferson City. He said the Department ignored a warning memo he wrote in 2016. Instead, he said the state is finding ways to give prisoners more privileges, like new computer tablets inmates began getting October 22nd. He said, “If you can be creative enough to come up with the funding to do something like this for the offenders - how about a much, much smaller population of people called staff? Why aren`t you putting that same effort forward?” A D.O.C spokesperson would not respond to my inquiry about officers being locked inside the prisons. She did say the department is aggressively recruiting new hires. Meanwhile, the money taxpayers owe corrections officers went up about another sixty dollars in the time it took you to read this report.