CBS4 Problems Solvers uncovers out-of-this-world spending at Marion County Jail

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- A CBS4 Problem Solvers investigation exposed some out-of-this-world spending at the Marion County jail.

It shows your tax dollars are at work paying jail guards at a scale that just doesn't make sense. On Cell Block 3 West, you don’t want to stay longer than you have to.

“Any given day, any given time, anything can happen,” said Deputy Chief Tanesha Crear. “We have inmate-on-inmate assaults. There’s mutual combat in this facility regularly.”

But if you work for deputy Chief Tanesha Crear, it pays big to stay as long as you can. Overtime at the Marion County jail has skyrocketed by 535%.

It jumped from just $676,000 in 2014 to more than $3.5 million in 2017, which is an astronomical difference of nearly $3 million.

Why? Well, The simple answer is they can’t keep enough guards on staff.

“For myself, anywhere between four to six hours of overtime a day and maybe one or two days off I come in,” said Jail Deputy Kenyonn Sincere. “In the past seven months I’ve done approximately 628 hours of overtime."

He said he would also work on what is supposed to be his day off, and he isn't alone.

He’s just one of several deputies making tens of thousands of dollars over his base salary at the expense of taxpayers.

As an example, one guard worked more than 1,700 overtime hours in 2017, effectively working the equivalent of two full-time jobs at one place: the Marion County jail.

Another example shows a guard’s time sheet with the deputy clocking eleven extra 12-hour shifts in one month.

In 2017, he ended up one of the highest paid employees in Marion County at $105,000, several thousand more than their boss who runs the entire jail.

“At the end of the year there was a deputy, I won’t give his name, and the amount of money, he made more than I did at the time and we thought, ‘How does that happen?’ Well he was working double shifts for months upon months,” said Sheriff Kerry Forestal.

The numbers are shocking, even for newly-elected Forestal

“I think there’s no doubt it puts strain on people,” he said.

Forestal, within days of taking office, asked why this excessive overtime is adding up. He admits they can’t hire guards fast enough.

“That’s why I’m working to raise the pay and reduce the number of hours they would have to work,” said Forestal.

Most guards who don’t take all that overtime quit within a year or two and leave a constant 70 to 80 vacancies. A recent city-funded jail audit blamed the resignations on the pay scale.

Third-year jail deputies make a little over $38,000, while third-year Indy police officers get more than $68,000.

“We volunteer," said Deputy Joseph Lovalvo. "I mean I don’t want to see somebody get hurt just because, deputy or inmate wise, just because we don’t have the staff."

Lovalvo says he’s never been forced to work overtime, but all that overtime does take its toll.

"Stressed out, yes, but it's the job," said Lovalvo.

University of Indianapolis professor and researcher Kevin Whiteacre says the sheer number of hours being worked by these deputies raises serious questions about safety.

“You see health problems from the employee. You see a greater potential for mistakes. You see a lot of the negative consequences,” Whiteacre said. “Everybody has a responsibility to help with this problem. It’s a big problem.”

Sheriff Forestal takes these concerns seriously.

“There’s no doubt that the exposure they’re put to everyday is a dangerous situation. All jails are. It’s never gonna be a safe place. We need it to be the safest place that we can,” he said.

Forestal’s predecessor, former Sheriff John Layton, made it clear for years he needed help. He focused on raising their salaries to stop so many from quitting.

The Sheriff said he's paying attention to the feeling of burnout.

"I am, I am. I think that is a constant strain on people," said Forestal.

Lovalvo said he'd like to see it fully staffed, "But if this is the way it has to be done and I have to come in for overtime to make sure my fellow employees, my friends, my relatively family to be safe, I’ll do it this way.”

The jail is installing a new scheduling system that will staff guards more efficiently based on demand.

Sheriff Forestal is still lobbying the city-county council to raise the guards’ salaries.

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