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Audit Report Finds Michigan Prisoner Transportation System Wasteful

by David M. Reutter

Michigan’s Auditor General has issued a report that criticizes the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) prison transport system as inefficient and wasteful of taxpayer money. The report notes that MDOC has failed to implement recommendations made in a 1996 report.

To transport its prisoners, the MDOC has three regional hubs that employ 84 full-time Corrections Transportation Officers (CTOs). In addition to those hubs, 19 prisons employed 135 CTOs. There are four main reasons for prisoner transports: interfacility transfers, off-site medical appointments, court appointments and transportation for parolees and probationers.

While the Auditor found MDOC’s efforts to manage prisoner transportation were moderately effective, it found five specific areas that represent an opportunity for improvement or a significant deficiency in management’s ability to operate the program in an effective manner.

In fiscal year 2006-07, MDOC recorded $23.6 million in transportation costs, which included salaries for CTOs, 4,601,300 vehicle miles and 102,000 overtime hours. Yet, MDOC had not developed a standardized method to identify, account for, document and report prisoner transportation activity.

Because MDOC failed to consistently or accurately monitor the costs or miles traveled to transport prisoners, its information cannot be relied upon. One prison did not report any transportation miles but it recorded $429,000 in transportation costs. Another four prisons recorded 95,777 miles, costing $29,576 for perimeter vehicles, produce trucks and other vehicles not used for prisoner transport. The Auditor also added $21,352 in pay for 324 regular and 611 overtime hours to custody guards to transport prisoners that was not recorded as prisoner transport costs.

Another failure is that MDCO has not fully implemented its computerized transportation system to prioritize, schedule, route and coordinate prisoner transport services. This tool could also be used to consistently report those services when implemented. In addition, MDOC has failed to establish a central transportation coordinator.

Currently, each prison has transfer coordinators, medical schedulers and records office staff prioritize and schedule their own prisoner transport needs. Over a 10-day period, 472 scheduled medical and court appointment runs cost $31,094 in overtime.

The failure to centrally coordinate medical runs resulted in prisoners being scheduled for an appointment at the Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center only to have the prisoner transferred to another prison, sometimes across the state, requiring a special transport back for the appointment.

In addition, CTOs have inflexible hours and schedules that result in overtime. With flexible schedules for CTOs, the MDOC could have saved $1,901 in overtime over a 10-day period. To accommodate those appointments, CTOs would come in early or stay late rather than having a scheduled run to fit in an eight hour shift.

The Auditor also found MDOC failed to fully utilize videoconferencing for medical and court appointments. Finally, MDOC was criticized for failing to implement the Auditor’s 1996 recommendations to recognize full cost of transportation statewide, establish a full-time central transportation coordinator position, to require all prisons to report its schedule to the regional transport lieutenant daily and to require all CTOs to be on a minimum of two hours of flex time.

It was recommended that MDOC implement these procedures to enable it to accurately assess and report its prisoner transportation costs. This report, Performance Audit of Prisoner Transportation, Department of Corrections, issued in December 2008 by Michigan’s Office of the Auditor General is available on PLN’s website.

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