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Missouri DOC Targeted by State Auditors

On September 28, 2009, Missouri State Auditor, Susan Montee, released the results of an audit recently conducted by her office targeting the State’s DOC. The audit focused primarily on the three years ending June 30, 2008 and was intended as a tool to evaluate (l) the DOC’s internal controls over significant management and financial functions, (2) DOC’s compliance with certain legal provisions and (3) the economy and efficiency of management practices and operations.

The major disagreement between DOC officials and Ms. Montee’s office arose in regard to the proper dispensation of monies confiscated by the DOC from prisoners or parolees who escaped or absconded from supervision. In addition to these “escapee funds,” as of June 30, 2008, the DOC held almost $20,000 in unredeemed canteen coupons either lost or abandoned by prisoners. Although DOC officials have been confiscating these monies for years, it was not until fiscal year 2007 that any of the funds were spent, which auditors believe is a violation of DOC statutory authority.

The escapee and coupon funds combined totaled approximately $1 million as of June 30, 2008. According to state auditors, this money is supposed to be used to meet the financial obligations of the escapees, such as court fines, child support or incarceration costs. Whatever funds remain after those duties are met are to be transmitted to the State Treasurer’s Office, Unclaimed Property Section. In making this assertion, auditors relied on Chapter 447, RSMo, which provides for the disposition of abandoned property.

DOC officials, however, argue that Chapter 447, RSMo, does not apply to the DOC, and, instead, rely upon institutional policy and the legislative authority provided by section 217.197, RSMo. Furthermore, DOC supports its position with applicable case law; See: Heron v. Whiteside, 782 S.W. 2d 414 (Mo. App. 1989) and Charron v. Thompson, 939 S.W. 2d 885 (Mo. 1996).

“Significant billing errors” were also discovered in regard to the $40 million the state pays to counties and the City of St. Louis each year for the prosecution, housing, and transportation of prisoners. Auditors found 43 instances that occurred between March 2007 and May 2008 where the DOC paid multiple billings for the same prisoners and dates totaling more than $44,000 in overpayments.

Another area of considerable concern proved to be in regard to extradition reimbursements. Of particular interest was the apparently outdated reimbursement procedure currently utilized that charges the state transport mileage for each individual prisoner. This practice is not cost effective in that different trips to the same destination produce a range of billing costs depending on the number of prisoners being transported, and each of the bills is well in excess of the actual cost of the trip.

In an attempt to assist DOC officials in developing ways to improve their efficiency, auditors provided constructive recommendations for consideration. Many of the suggestions put forth highlight the need for improved policies, procedures and oversight, although there were various substantive changes recommended as well. Whether DOC officials choose to incorporate Ms. Montee’s recommendations into whatever plan they develop to address the deficiencies remains to be seen. The only certainty is that improvement is necessary if the DOC is to operate in a cost effective and governable manner. Copies of Ms. Montee’s report regarding the DOC audit are available on PLN’s website. See: Mo. State Auditor report # 2009-103, Sept. 2009.

Additional source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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