Penobscot County Jail employees will soon be able to earn double pay for overtime shifts while administrators work to fill the facility’s 20 open full-time positions.
On Tuesday, the Penobscot County Commission unanimously approved offering double pay, rather than time and a half, for jail employees who fill 15 overtime shifts. The double pay offer will take effect in the jail’s next pay period and end on Sept. 30.
The already overcrowded and aging jail is the latest county entity to use increased wages as a recruiting and retention effort while grappling with chronic staffing shortages. Earlier this month, the county approved a $2 an hour raise for the county’s 911 dispatchers to retain and attract new employees.
While raising overtime pay isn’t a long-term solution to the jail’s staffing shortage, Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton said it softens the blow for employees who continue to take on overtime shifts while waiting for new employees to finish their training. The increased pay may also incentivize others who haven’t taken on overtime to do so.
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“I want to commend our staff for picking up overtime and there are some that do it all the time,” Morton said during Tuesday’s commissioners meeting. “These folks have been doing this for months, and that’s why we’re losing people. We’re losing them because they’re tired and it’s hard to work overtime.”
The jail has 42 “do not fill” shifts the jail can cut while staying in line with minimum staffing levels as set by the Maine Department of Corrections, Morton said. Last week, however, the jail had 27 additional shifts that weren’t filled.
If all 15 overtime shifts get filled, the jump from time and a half to double pay will cost the county $2,400 more per week, according to Morton.
The jail is training 15 people to help fill the 20 available positions, and five people are almost ready to enter the facility as full-time employees, Morton said. The other 10, however, will likely need about two more months of training before they can take on shifts.
Meanwhile, county corrections officers are shifting how they recruit new hires, as Morton said potential employees no longer seek out jail administrators at hiring events. A recent job fair that county jail representatives attended garnerd only one potential applicant.
“If you work a shift in the jail for 12 or 18 hours every day, these people deserve [double pay],” Morton said. “This is short term, and we need to do everything we can to recruit and get new bodies in here.”