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Montana DOC Employees Disciplined for E-mail Abuse

An internal investigation of e-mail abuse in the Montana Dept. of Corrections (DOC) uncovered what was termed “disgusting” behavior on the part of guards and even high-level prison officials. Seventy-four employees were cited for abusing state computer privileges.

Their offenses included e-mailing sexually and racially inappropriate material, chain letters, videos, jokes and pictures. One image, which was referred to the sheriff’s department and FBI for review, contained a photo of a naked child.

All 74 employees were called on the carpet to answer for their misbehavior; disciplinary actions included verbal warnings, written warnings, 1-to-9 day suspensions and even several “last chance” agreements in which employees acknowledged that further infractions would result in termination. One employee resigned. The sheriff’s department declined to press charges over the nude child picture.

The DOC has had to deal with the problem of e-mail abuse before; it has now implemented a monthly audit to screen employees who were previously warned as well as a number of randomly selected staff members.

On December 9, 2007, the DOC announced that it would still allow limited e-mail use for appropriate situations such as notifying family members that an employee would have to work late. “I believe we are moving in the right direction with this matter and do not anticipate that we will experience significant problems with abuse of the e-mail system again,” stated Warden Mike Mahoney.

Eric Feaver, president of the DOC’s guard union, said he felt that the discipline was handled “adequately and correctly.” However, he pointed out that many of the e-mail abusers occupied managerial positions and were not under the union’s authority.

The scandal made such a splash that even Gov. Brian Schweitzer warned his staff not to engage in e-mail abuse.

Sources: Associated Press, Billings Gazette

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