Massive overspending of its overtime budget has forced the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to rethink its operations, and jail visitation hours were first on the chopping block.
Visitation in all Maricopa County jails was reduced to 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every day but Friday, when only lawyers will be allowed to visit.
Visiting hours formerly ran from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day but Friday.
The policy change is meant to help the office compensate for exceeding its budgeted overtime by $2 million in the first quarter, sheriff’s spokeswoman Lisa Allen MacPherson said.
Trimming visitor hours should save the office $900,000 through the fiscal year ending June 30, she said.
Some families feared the cutback would be even more severe following a snafu in early November.
Detention officers posted signs Nov. 3 in the Fourth Avenue Jail lobby — along with a message on the jail’s phone system — stating that visiting hours were being cut to Sundays only.
The signs were taken down soon after they went up. Sheriff’s spokesman Capt. Paul Chagolla said certain departments took “as gospel” an e-mail meant to circulate ideas about how to reduce overtime spending, and they began to implement some of the proposed changes prematurely.
They were not authorized to do so, Chagolla said.
Also temporarily affected was transportation of defendants to their court hearings. As many as 46 defendants involved in 61 criminal cases missed their scheduled court appearances on Nov. 5.
A team of deputies in charge of moving inmates was not on duty because they were mistakenly told they would not be working their overtime shifts.
Chagolla said there have been no problems transporting inmates to their court proceedings since then.
In other cost-cutting measures, the sheriff also shut down three buildings used by local police to book inmates into county jails, including one in Mesa.
MacPherson said certain aspects of the new visitation hours are an improvement.
“Fridays are just legal visits, which is great for the attorneys, because then they don’t have to compete with all the families and friends and loved ones that want to visit before 2 p.m.,” she said. “And the family doesn’t have to compete with them either.”
Also, the limit of visits per person has not changed, MacPherson said. Visitors will still be allowed to see a particular inmate three times per week for 30 minutes each.
MacPherson said she’s not worried about getting expenditures back in line with the budget.
“We’ll be fine,” she said.
“We have nine months to figure this out.”
She blamed the economy for this year’s tight budget.
“In the past, the county has been in a better position than it is this year,” she said.
Sheriff’s officials could not say what their total annual overtime budget was when asked Friday.
The new overtime restrictions will affect 1,900 detention officers and 216 sergeants, who are eligible for overtime.
Employees ranked lieutenant and higher receive salaries only, with no overtime pay.