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Auditor Appalled at Lack of Spending Controls in Mississippi Prison System

MDOC has been plagued with violence, staff shortages, and deplorable conditions. MDOC sought an additional $78 million from legislators for 2021 to address those issues. While that was going on, MDOC made over $10 million in illegal payments to its employees, paid over $1 million in improper travel reimbursements, and spent tens of thousands of dollars for staff parties.

The auditor’s first two findings called for MDOC to embrace ethical business practices and improve the ethical tone within the organization. It also called for the implementation and strengthening of internal controls in all phases of MDOC’s operations.

Most of the audit reviewed the period from July 2017 through December 2019, which covers the period that Patricia Hall was MDOC’s Commissioner. Hall resigned from MDOC on December 31, 2019, saying she was entering the private sector.

As Commissioner, Hall authorized lump sum payments for comp time to all MDOC employees. Comp time is accrued for overtime hours worked in conjunction with job duties. Absent specific statutory or budgetary authority, comp time cannot be paid out in lump sum or on a paycheck. No such authority exists.

To work around that prohibition, Hall authorized comp time tools be paid out as call back pay. That type of pay is authorized in situations where employees are called back to work for situations such as escapes or riots. While Hall offered comp time payouts to all MDOC employees, the highest buyouts were reserved for employees making in excess of $100,000 salary. Hall received $109,646 in buy out payments and Deputy Commissioner of Institutions Jerry Williams received $240,000 in buyouts. MDOC paid a total of $10,292,623 in illegal buyouts of comp time.

The auditors also found Hall double billed third party organizations and MDOC for nine trips, traveled outside the country three times without authorization, and received excessive travel reimbursements 14 times. She received $18,580 in payments that the auditors said should be repaid. They also found a parole board member received $47,321 in improper travel reimbursements.

During Hall’s reign as Commissioner, MDOC spent $41,084.90 on equipment for “stress reduction” rooms. The rooms featured massage chairs, Himalayan salt lamps, boom boxes, and other comfort items. Over $40,000 was spent for an employee family wellness day or for employee appreciation luncheons and meals for staff meetings. Over $43,000 was spent on gym equipment for employees.

The auditors also found problems in restitution and banking accounting. MDOC held $309,793 in a restitution account that had not been disbursed to individuals for restitution payments. They further found MDOC’s accounting was lacking. MDOC had bank accounts outside the State Treasury that exceeded authorized maximum balance limits.

Auditors took issue with MDOC using “off the shelf” accounting software rather than using the state’s system. This not only prevented oversight by the state, it created an environment that allowed food fraud and waste to go undetected. The report noted that MDOC had destroyed or burned records the auditors needed to make a complete audit.

MDOC agreed with the findings and vowed to make changes. The auditors referred their findings to state and federal investigators to take appropriate action.

“This audit shows how pervasive lack of spending controls can have devastating effects on real people,” said Mississippi Auditor Shad White. “I’m appalled at what this audit showed. The state must fix this, and now.”

It appears little has changed with the Mississippi Department of Corrections. As PLN previously reported, in 2014 Chris Epps, the MDOC commissioner, was convicted of accepting millions in bribes from prison vendors and contractors, including Global Tel Link and various private prison companies. The current MDOC commissioner Burl Cain, is also notoriously corrupt from his stint as warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

See: Limited Internal Control and Compliance Review Management Report, December 16, 2020, Mississippi Office of the State Auditor. 


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