By David M. Reutter

Life in prison has always been far different than life in the free world. An investigation by the Pittsburgh-Gazette into the wages of Pennsylvania prison employees revealed one of those differences – an Alice-in-Wonderland quality to the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) pay scale.

Typically, an employee’s higher rank merits greater pay. Yet Pennsylvania prison guards, who occupy the bottom rung of the DOC’s employment ladder, are some of the state’s highest paid prison workers.

For example, of the 23 employees at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Pittsburgh who earned more than $100,000 in 2011, 21 were guards or sergeants. That same year, the best-paid captain at SCI Pittsburgh earned less than $88,000 while the top-paid lieutenant made $73,817. One guard, whose base pay was around $51,000, padded his income with leave pay, shift differentials and overtime to earn a total of $139,571. His overtime pay alone was approximately $75,000.

“That guy works every minute he can,” said David Mandella, local vice president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Association (PSCOA).

Of the $5.5 million in overtime paid at SCI Pittsburgh in 2011 – representing 17.3% of the prison’s total payroll – $4.9 million went to guards and sergeants. “[Overtime] costs have increased over the years to a current cost … of $50 million” systemwide, said DOC spokeswoman Susan McNaughton.

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