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2014, Daniel Sangjib Min/Times-Dispatch/  

Auditors say staffing stayed the same or increased in the past two years, as the average number of inmates housed at Richmond City Justice Center decreased from 952 to 750.

Audit: Richmond Sheriff's Office overtime payments rose 333 percent last year, costing nearly $2.8M

Overtime pay at the Richmond City Sheriff’s Office skyrocketed 333% last year, according to a new audit.

The sharp increase resulted in a $2.8 million budget overrun during the last fiscal year for Sheriff Antionette Irving, according to the audit City Auditor Lou Lassiter released earlier this month. The auditors found that overtime payments rose sharply under Irving, who took over the Richmond City Justice Center and its budget in 2018, despite a declining inmate population.

“The jail population and staffing level of sworn employees have an inverse correlation to overtime spending,” the report states.

In fiscal year 2016, under then-Sheriff C.T. Woody, overtime totaled $161,776. In fiscal year 2017, Woody’s last year as sheriff, the payments were $127,096. In fiscal year 2018 — Irving’s first year on the job — the payments rose to $643,985. In fiscal year 2019, they totaled $2.76 million.

Over the past two years, the average number of inmates at the jail decreased from 952 to 750. Auditors found that during that same period, Irving’s administration maintained or increased staffing levels. The auditors also found Irving’s staff did not fully utilize the spaces in the jail, called pods, where inmates are housed together.

Rather than close pods as the number of inmates has dropped, Irving kept the same number open. One in three beds were empty in the open pods before she took over. By last April, half the beds in the open pods were empty, according to the audit.

Irving told the auditors she did not reduce staffing as the number of inmates dropped because of a requirement that deputies directly supervise inmates at all times.

Asked for comment Thursday, Irving cited a written response to the auditor’s finding that was published with the report. It cited safety as the reason why fewer inmates have been housed together.

“While overtime has increased and the inmate population has decreased the facility is a much safer place to visit and reside. We continuously evaluate the pulse of the environment of the jail and the housing needs for the inmate population. Our utmost concern is to ensure the life, health and safety of inmates, staff and volunteers.”

The response also cites another factor: vacancies.

Staffing shortages have persisted during her two-year tenure at the jail. When Irving took office, she said the jail had 82 vacancies. Later that year, she said the openings necessitated overspending her operating budget to meet minimum staffing requirements set by the state of at least one deputy per three inmates.

At the end of last May, auditors found that 64 of the 388 sworn positions on her staff were vacant. That number has ticked up again to 71, she stated in her written response to the auditors.

Irving cited pay as a hindrance to hiring and retaining staff. Despite increases, Richmond’s pay still lags behind neighboring localities, she stated.

In the last fiscal year, five employees who each logged more than 1,300 hours in overtime nearly doubled their respective salaries, according to the audit.

Irving’s office was projected to overrun its budget by $1.7 million by the end of the current fiscal year, according to a quarterly financial report Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration released last fall. It cited overtime as the primary reason. A new report with updated projections is due to the City Council on Friday.