Mississippi auditor alleges former corrections leaders misspent hundreds of thousands in taxpayer money

Published 5:16 pm Thursday, December 17, 2020

Mississippi State Auditor Shad White released an audit Thursday that alleges widespread, rampant misspending of taxpayer money by state corrections department leaders including what appears to have been an effort to destroy records by burning or destroying them.

Actions by previous agency leadership and an absence of proper spending safeguards led to significant losses for taxpayers, according to the audit.

The audit of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), which was requested by current MDOC leadership, revealed:

  • Vital accounting records had been burned or destroyed by previous agency leadership, which limited evidence of many agency purchases.
  • MDOC leadership made illegal “comp” time buyouts to top agency leaders. When an employee has worked more hours than a normal workweek, they sometimes earn compensatory time – “comp time.” Accumulating comp time allows those employees to take time off later and still be paid. In some situations, an employee may ask the agency to “buy back” the comp time (to be paid instead of taking time off). A “buy back” is only legal for certain employees and under certain conditions. In this case, large, illegal buyouts were given to some agency employees already making over $100,000 per year in salary. The former Commissioner of MDOC received an illegal buyout of $109,446. Another former Deputy Commissioner received over $240,000 in buyouts, including one lump sum payment of $160,000.
  • Thousands in improper travel reimbursements were paid to the former Commissioner of MDOC.
  • Thousands in improper travel reimbursements were paid to a member of the State Parole Board.
  • Twenty massage chairs were purchased for MDOC staff, along with thousands spent on rugs, art, Himalayan salt lamps, CDs, and other items for multiple meditation rooms at MDOC facilities.
  • Thousands were spent to upgrade MDOC’s executive suite.

“I want to thank the current staff of MDOC,” said Auditor White. “They brought many of these issues to us. Without them, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to uncover some of the misspending here. It is encouraging to see their proactive approach to fixing the problems.”

“I also applaud the diligent work of the auditors at the Office of the State Auditor for drilling down to discover the depths of these problems. It is infuriating to see such waste when more money needs to be spent on the frontline corrections officers and directly in Mississippi’s prisons,” said White.

Auditors also found serious issues at the state’s restitution centers. Incarcerated people are sometimes held at restitution centers while they work to pay back money they owe as a result of judgments against them. Inmates should have been informed when they worked enough to fully repay what they owe, but the audit revealed MDOC was not verifying the amounts that inmates had paid so the inmate could cease work.

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

Some of the findings in the audit will now be handed to the Investigations Division at the Office of the State Auditor and other portions have been forwarded to federal authorities.

The full audit report can be found online at the Auditor’s website.