Genesis Behavioral Services, a private company, contracts with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide community corrections services to male offenders at a facility in Kenosha – including certified substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence intervention and cognitive intervention programs. However, a recent audit spurred by complaints from a whistleblower revealed that Genesis routinely violated the terms of its contract.
According to the DOC audit, released on January 10, 2017, Genesis operates a 20-bed residential facility called Options House, which is staffed by three counselors, five resident assistants and an office assistant. Genesis entered into a new two-year contract with the DOC to provide community corrections services on May 1, 2016.
Last August the DOC received “an unsolicited ten-page spreadsheet” from a resident “regarding the lack of programming, recordings and paperwork he had prepared relating to the daily operations” at Options House. The whistleblower provided “a daily account of activities that were not in compliance with the contract program schedule” from June 20 through August 9, 2016. Deficiencies at the facility included residents watching numerous movies unrelated to the curriculum, such as Independence Day, Happy Gilmore and Hunger Games; sessions beginning late or ending early; and some sessions not being conducted.
The whistleblower also noted that although he had received sufficient hours of program completion to graduate from the Genesis program, he did not in fact complete all of the required hours. As a result of those allegations, DOC officials conducted an extensive audit that included site visits, interviews, questionnaires, and a review of files and logbooks.
Spreadsheets included with the audit report showed discrepancies on sign-in sheets that documented residents’ attendance at required Genesis program sessions, including “the [ ] signatures being in the exact same order throughout the day on different sign in sheets....” Contrary to contractual provisions, other sign-in sheets from May to August 2016 indicated that no counselor or facilitator was present. According to another spreadsheet, residents had signed into two program sessions that met at the same time, while in others they were concurrently enrolled in different program phases when they were supposed to complete one phase before moving to the next.
The spreadsheets further revealed a large number of phone calls had been made by residents and staff when they should have been participating in program sessions. The audit report noted there were “101 [such] phone calls, lasting more than 30 minutes long, between July 1st and August 15th,” plus dozens of other calls with shorter durations. This indicates the programs did not occur or residents and staff were on the phone instead of engaged in the sessions.
For example, on one day “there were 9 hours of overlap where all three phases were occurring at the same time. Of those 9 hours of group, the phone was in use by residents for over half that time period (4 hours 43 minutes).”
Phone services for Options House residents were discontinued in August 2016 due to a $5,000 phone bill.
Beyond the discrepancies in the programs provided to residents by Genesis, the DOC audit cited various maintenance problems, including peeling paint, stained floors, missing tile in a bathroom and a non-working shower. There was also a lack of air conditioning that forced many residents to sleep outside their assigned sleeping areas; they were allowed “to bring their mattresses to the main floor at bedtime so [they] could sleep in the coolest part of the house.”
Interviews with residents found that some had been threatened with strip searches by Genesis staff. The interviews also confirmed that residents were only receiving six to eight hours of programming per day instead of the ten hours required by contract, and that they “were required to sign multiple sign-in sheets at one time for all groups conducted that day or for the week, whether the groups took place or not.” Genesis had no registered nurse at the facility, contrary to what it had stated during the contracting process.
Also troubling was the apparent unfamiliarity of staff and residents with Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards, which was another contractual requirement. Sixteen of the 19 residents at the facility “were unaware of the term ‘PREA’ nor did they know the DOC and Genesis policies or procedures regarding PREA expectations or rights should an allegation be reported.”
This prompted the DOC to recommend that both Genesis employees and residents undergo PREA training. One PREA incident was reported at Options House, involving the whistleblower who contacted the DOC and informed state officials of contract violations; Genesis staff had initially failed to address that PREA complaint.
Additionally, the whistleblower informed Prison Legal News that he had been threatened by other residents at Options House but staff refused to intervene. He audio recorded an employee who failed to take action and disparaged law enforcement officers; while the audit noted the disparaging comments, it did not address the failure of Genesis staff to ensure the safety of residents who reported threats of violence.
Genesis was given until February 10, 2017 to submit a response to the audit and provide a corrective action plan, and the DOC indicated a follow-up review would be scheduled six months from the date of the final report to ensure remedial steps were taken to address the problems cited in the audit report.
Some of those problems were reportedly caused by a new curriculum adopted by Genesis following the May 1, 2016 contract award, which resulted in changes in upper management positions, “a vacuum where no information was passed down to line staff” and complaints that staff “were given no formal training on the new curriculum.”
Although the DOC’s contract with Genesis provides for liquidated damages in cases where the company “has failed to deliver the quality, quantity or level of performance of deliverables required under the terms of this contract,” the audit did not indicate whether liquidated damages or other financial sanctions would be imposed.
As is often the case when state officials contract with private companies to provide correctional services, were it not for the whistleblower who came forward, the issues cited in the DOC audit likely would not have been discovered or disclosed.
Source: “Genesis Residential Service Program, Unannounced Site Inspection – Options House,” Wisconsin Department of Corrections (Jan. 10, 2017)
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