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California State Auditor Reports on CDCR Malfeasance

In January 2011, the California State Auditor presented an investigative report to the governor and legislative leaders that summarized substantiated allegations of improper activities involving several state agencies, including the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The reported investigations were completed between January and June 2010.

Of the eight substantiated allegations during that time period, three involved the CDCR.
The auditor’s report, issued pursuant to the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act, also provided an update on previously-reported investigations. Of the 12 previous investigations updated in the report, four involved the CDCR.

The Whistleblower Protection Act defines improper governmental activity as any action by a state agency or employee, during the performance of official duties, that violates any state or federal law or regulation; that is economically wasteful; or that involves gross misconduct, incompetence or inefficiency. Under the Act, the Bureau of State Audits is empowered to conduct investigations; however, it has no enforcement powers. The Bureau maintains a whistleblower hotline so state employees and members of the public can report suspected improper governmental activities confidentially.

When an allegation of improper activity is substantiated, the Bureau forwards the details to the head of the state agency, who in turn is required to notify the Bureau within 60 days of any corrective action taken, with follow-ups on a monthly basis until the corrective action is concluded. As it deems necessary to serve the state’s interests, the state auditor reports publicly on substantiated improper governmental activities.

While not all improper activity has a quantifiable financial impact, seven of the eight substantiated allegations described in the report did, with the total cost to the state estimated at $490,424. Of that amount, $393,039, or about 80 percent, was attributable to the CDCR. Similarly, 10 of the 12 updated cases resulted in quantifiable financial losses which totaled nearly $2 million; of that amount, 85 percent was attributable to the CDCR.

Of the recently substantiated misconduct allegations, by far the most costly was the CDCR’s 35-month delay in taking decisive action following receipt of credible information, in June 2006, that a psychiatrist had falsified records and was unfit for duty.

The CDCR first referred the matter to its Office of Internal Affairs for investigation. In a relatively short period of four months, Internal Affairs determined that the psychiatrist had negligently failed to prescribe, overprescribed, and inappropriately prescribed medications to patients, thereby placing them at risk of physical harm. In October 2006, CDCR officials assigned the psychiatrist to administrative duties, which removed him from providing patient care. The CDCR then took an additional two years to complete its investigation and refer the matter for legal disposition. Seven months later, in May 2009, the psychiatrist was finally fired.

During the 35-month investigation the psychiatrist received over $600,000 in salary. Shockingly, that included two merit-based pay increases of $1,027 and $818 per month, as well as nearly $30,000 for 226 hours of leave time accrued during the investigation.

The state auditor determined that the CDCR could have saved at least $366,656 with a more timely response. Equally importantly, by allowing the psychiatrist to continue to treat patients for four months after learning of circumstances suggesting he was incompetent, the CDCR “unnecessarily placed parolees at risk.”

Not surprisingly, the CDCR disagreed with the finding that patients’ safety had been compromised. Prison officials pointed out that they could not relieve the psychiatrist of his duties without first corroborating the facts behind the allegations, and stressed that they took immediate action once Internal Affairs had finished its investigation.

In another incident, Kern Valley State Prison supervisors allowed a warehouse employee to stop working approximately two hours before the end of his shift “almost daily” over a period of more than three years, from June 2006 through August 2009. The employee, who openly acknowledged taking the early breaks, explained that due to shift changes and traffic within the facility he was generally unable to make deliveries after 2 p.m.

The state auditor estimated that the employee had wasted 1,160 hours of state time at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $24,000. It recommended that the CDCR take disciplinary action against the supervisors involved and restructure the employee’s duties and/or work schedule.

The CDCR adopted the latter recommendation, revising the employee’s duty statement and changing his work schedule to an earlier start time. Not surprisingly, however, prison officials declined to take any disciplinary action against the supervisors, finding they had committed no misconduct. Nonetheless the state auditor deemed this matter to have been “fully corrected.”

Among previously-reported incidents, the most costly was the CDCR’s failure to adequately manage a time bank composed of leave hours donated by members of the prison guards’ union for use by union representatives conducting union business. As a result, the CDCR inappropriately compensated $1.5 million in union activity over a seven-year period extending from 2003 to 2010. In June 2010, the CDCR initiated litigation against the union seeking reimbursement for unpaid leave since July 2005.
Citing inadequacies in their records, prison officials decided to write off over $434,000 in unpaid leave taken prior to that time. The state auditor deemed this matter to have been only “partially corrected.”

In two separate previously-reported incidents, in 2008 and again in 2009, the CDCR improperly paid nine office technicians and 23 other employees a total of more than $50,000 in extra pay for supervising prisoners when, in fact, the employees did not satisfy the criteria for the additional pay. [See: PLN, Aug. 2010, p.36]. Based on sampling techniques, the state auditor estimated that the CDCR may have improperly paid more than ten times that amount to employees statewide over a one-year period. The CDCR subsequently adopted department-wide operational procedures, identified documentation and training needs, and established an internal audit process to reduce the likelihood of future improper payments.

Source: “Investigations of Improper Activities by State Employees,” California State Auditor, Report No. 2010-2 (January 2011)

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