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Federal Stimulus Money Not Spent as Intended by San Diego County Probation Department

According to an internal audit disclosed in November 2010, the San Diego County Probation Department did not allocate federal stimulus funds for the purposes intended under the terms of the stimulus program. The good news is that the audit seems to have served its intended function; after release of the audit findings, the probation department adjusted its practices to increase its level of compliance.

In an effort to deal with the depressed economy, Congress approved a federal stimulus package in 2009. As part of the stimulus $139 million was set aside to help combat violence against women. Of that amount, California received $13.2 million, which in turn was doled out to counties by the California Emergency Management Agency.

San Diego County applied for $258,590 in grant money. Its application was approved on the condition that it provide $86,197 in matching funds. The money was intended to pay for a probation officer to monitor sex offenders, staff to assist the additional officer, 20 new GPS monitoring systems, training and supplies, plus services for victims of crime – specifically housing, child care, transportation and counseling. Under the terms of the stimulus funds, those services were to be delivered between October 2009 and September 2010.

According to the auditors, however, probation officials spent money on staff training instead of the services mandated by the stimulus grant. Additionally, the county failed to fill several temporary positions funded by the stimulus money. And while it received funds for GPS monitoring systems, the county neglected to adequately monitor the whereabouts of high-risk sex offenders who were equipped with those devices.

“Insufficient contacts with probationers, victims, and treatment providers could prevent the department from achieving program objectives,” the auditors noted in their report. “It could also prevent the department from getting future funding and have a negative impact on public perception.”

To his credit, San Diego County’s Chief Probation Officer, Mack Jenkins, did not dispute the audit’s findings.

“We did not do the level of preparation in applying for that grant that we should have,” he acknowledged. “I accept responsibility for that.”

Jenkins indicated that he would work with his staff to address the shortcomings noted by the auditors, and apparently he was good to his word. Jenkins first sought permission from the state to extend the time for compliance with the terms of the stimulus funds. An extension was granted from September 2010 to February 2011. During that time the county hired two temporary workers to help process the GPS data used to track high-risk sex offenders.

More generally, according to Jenkins, the stimulus grant requirements are now being met. By contrast, according to the auditors, in March 2010 the county probation department completed only four of 13 required contacts with probationers, one of five required contacts with victims and six of 18 required contacts with treatment providers. Also, in May 2010, while the department fully complied with its required contacts with victims and treatment providers, it still completed just six of 16 required contacts with probationers.

“We did not do a good job in the initial start-up,” Jenkins admitted, “but the audit served its purpose.” He added, “We made some necessary changes. I would hope the public recognizes that government is accountable and the money still is going to its intended purposes.”

Laura Chick, the state Inspector General overseeing how federal stimulus funds are spent in California, suggested that San Diego County was not alone in misapplying its grant money. “This is likely the tip of the iceberg,” she said, noting that an audit of Yolo County’s stimulus fund expenditures had uncovered problems just as troubling as those disclosed in the San Diego County audit. Which indicates that in a time of financial crisis, maintaining the police state is the top order of business because without it, everything else crumbles.

Source: San Diego Union-Tribune

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