The Baltimore City Detention Center, swamped by an influx of inmates, is paying $75,000 a week in overtime to correctional officers, sparking union complaints that guards are working unsafe hours.
Much of the overtime is going to guards pressed into duty since February to watch overflow inmates being held at Baltimore police lockups, jail Commissioner LaMont W. Flanagan said.
Jail officials have had to farm out as many as 99 prisoners to the lockups in recent weeks to stay under a court-imposed population cap of 2,813, jail records showed.
"In other words, we're operating a second jail," Mr. Flanagan said.
Some guards have been drafted at the end of their regular shift to work a second eight-hour shift, union officials contended.
"When an employee has been working 16 hours straight in a prison, that obviously can lead to unsafe conditions," said Rudy Porter, state director for the Maryland Correctional Union. "The inmates are fully aware of who's been there for 16 hours."
"You don't have a life," said one jail guard, who asked not to be identified. "They tell you basically don't make any plans."
This officer has been drafted about once every six days the past several weeks, losing a day off each time.
Officers have had to cancel vacation plans and rearrange child care because of the overtime, union officials said.
In a recent memo, Jail Warden Bernard D. Smith called the amount of overtime "unbelievable."
The jail would prefer not having to use officers for 16 hours in a row because their concentration can suffer, Mr. Smith said.
But, even so, correctional officers are on call at all times, Mr. Flanagan said.
"When you become a correctional officer, just as when you become a police officer, part of your obligation is to be available when public safety requires your attendance," Mr. Flanagan said.
Some officers welcome the extra hours, for which they receive 150 percent of their usual pay, Mr. Smith said. Some were being paid for as much as 60 hours of overtime a week, he said.
Warden Smith has now limited "voluntary" overtime to 32 hours a week.
"If the institution . . . allows an individual to work an extraordinary amount of hours, this then renders the institution subject to vicarious liability," Mr. Smith wrote in a memo dated April 27. "It is imperative that all supervisors monitor the overtime book on a daily basis."
The state added dozens of new positions to improve security after it assumed control of the problem-plagued City Jail in July.That has meant an increase in the number of guards on each shift. In addition, officials never know how many employees will call in sick, nor do they know just how many inmates will have to be farmed out to police districts each night, Mr. Flanagan said.
There are no plans to hire more officers, Mr. Flanagan said, noting that it's cheaper to pay overtime to current employees than hire new ones.
He said he hoped the overcrowding would ease after June 1, when a new state law will allow the detention center to expand its use of home monitoring for inmates serving the last 90 days of their sentences.
Jail officials hope to increase the number of inmates on home monitoring from the current maximum of 136 to 600. The jail holds inmates awaiting trial and those sentenced to less than six months. The jail resumed using the police lockups in February. A federal judge rebuked jail officials in October 1990 for using the lockups to circumvent the court-imposed prisoner cap.