DENVER — Nearly $20 million is needed the complete a long overdue replacement of Colorado’s prison tracking system, according to Colorado correctional officials. The state’s current system, which has been in use for more than two decades, lacks the capability to maintain electronic inmate medical records.
According to Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections Rick Raemisch, the proposed upgrade would substantially improve the department’s ability to track inmates and maintain up-to-date records.
"We have a very antiquated system that is beyond upgrading," Raemisch told lawmakers. "Those who can repair it are beyond the retirement age. They tell us that when it goes down — and it will — that our whole system will be down. And it will create tremendous problems for us."
Raemisch and correctional colleagues shared their concerns with the Joint Budget Committee in mid January, and requested a capital construction budget amendment of $5.8 million for FY 2014-2015. These funds would allow the department to begin development of the new tracking system. However, this would only serve as the first of three installments over three years, as officials estimate roughly $19.8 million is needed for the full system revamp.
During the Joint Budget Committee meeting Raesmisch also assured lawmakers that rapidly increasing overtime pay would be curbed. According to Raemisch the nearly $3 million unanticipated payroll expense was the result of a misinterpretation of Senate Bill 210, which was approved in 2013. Before this legislation passed, correctional officer overtime pay was estimated using a 28-day work period. However, Senate Bill 210 cut that period in half. It also mandated overtime rates be paid any time an employee exceeded 85 hours within that period, as well as when employees worked 12 hours or more within a 24-hour period.
In an analysis by Joint Budget Committee staffer Steve Allen, Allen wrote, "Since both of these provisions refer to payment for the overtime, the department concludes that the provisions eliminate the department's previous discretionary ability to pay cash for overtime or award compensatory time.” Allen also suggested legislative corrections to eliminate some unintended overtime consequences of the bill. He added that the DOC drastically underestimated the impact these new provisions would have on overtime costs.
Senate Bill 210 was initially projected to increase monthly correctional officer overtime pay across the state by roughly $400,000. However, as a result of the misinterpretation, costs rose to just under $1 million per month. According to Raemisch, the department will search for ways to absorb the nearly $3 million that has already been paid out to workers largely through hiring and purchasing practices. "Since it's our mistake, it's our responsibility,” Raemisch said.