Thursday, State Auditor Shad White revealed the results of an audit that showed what he called “widespread misspending” by previous agency leadership within the Mississippi Department of Corrections. The audit was requested by new Commissioner Burl Cain, who was not surprised by its findings.
“Unfortunately based on my review of today’s audit results by Mississippi State Auditor Shad White, I am not entirely surprised at the Auditor’s findings,” Cain said in a statement. “Much of the accounting for this massive department was too loose and uncontrolled, and when you’re trying to find money to run 21 prisons to house 17,000 inmates, you need every dollar you can find. That’s why we pointed out many of the findings that now appear in the report and why Governor Reeves asked Mr. White to help us implement better and clearer accountability.”
Among the findings, White’s report alleges that former Commissioner Pelicia Hall and other leaders within the department made illegal “comp” time buyouts. In a news release, the MDOC explained that comp time is considered time off for employees who work over an eight-hour day and can be accumulated over months.
“If true, the improper accounting leaves us with no way to verify if those employees actually worked all those hours and, if they did not, then that would be the same as stealing money from taxpayers,” Cain said.
In February 2020, MDOC executive auditors flagged the final comp time payout which had been submitted and refused to pay it.
The report also claims that Hall, who stepped down in January, received an illegal buyout of $109,446 while another former Deputy Commissioner received over $240,000 in buyouts, including one lump sum payment of $160,000.
Thousands in improper travel reimbursements were allegedly paid to Hall and a member of the State Parole Board with additional funds being spent on massage chairs, Himalayan salt lamps, CDs, and other items for multiple meditation rooms at MDOC facilities.
“Our management staff has all agreed to set a higher standard,” Cain added, “so that taxpayers will have a department on which they can depend for efficient service. Many great people have worked at MDOC for years and they have been very happy to finally be able to make suggestions for improvements.
Cain detailed the recent actions taken by MDOC in response to the audit:
- All compensatory payments have been stopped;
- A full property inventory of MDOC property is being taken;
- That property which is not needed for operations is being turned over to the state’s surplus agency for disposal;
- Travel accounting has been returned to the transparency called for by law with far less travel being approved.
The full audit report can be found online at the Auditor’s website.