- As the federal government investigates Mississippi prisons over reports of violence, the state auditor found officials have misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars on staff perks.
- The Mississippi Department of Corrections bought Himalayan salt lamps and massage chairs for personnel while inmates live in dangerously unsanitary conditions, according to the audit report.
- The findings have been sent to investigators at the auditor’s office and federal authorities.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
An audit of the Mississippi prison system showed that the Department of Corrections had misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel, luxury items, and buyouts.
The inappropriate purchases included $17,545.25 on 20 massage chairs, $18,004.04 for items like decorative lamps, rugs, art, signs, Himalayan salt lamps, boom boxes, and CDs for staff “stress reduction rooms”, the report said. During one wellness day for staff and their families in October 2018, the department even spent $350 on a bounce house.
“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,” state Auditor Shad White said in a statement. “The state must fix this, and now.”
Mississippi prisons have become notorious for unclean conditions and a high death toll.
Earlier this year, the US Justice Department launched an investigation into the system after reports of ankle-deep open sewage, rodent infestation, and violence was widely reported.
Images from the Mississippi Health Department show show holes behind toilets and water fountains, roaches and garbage in chase pipes, and open sewage overflowing prison cells and bathrooms.
Courtesy of Mississippi Health Department
As the the federal agency examined whether the Mississippi Department of Corrections adequately protects prisoners from physical harm, White’s office looked into how it was spending taxpayer money.
The audit examined spending from July 1, 2017 to December 31, 2019.
Officials reviewing records learned that many documents had been burned or destroyed under previous leadership so there was limited evidence of agency purchases, the auditor’s office said.
But there was enough to show that the Department of Corrections leadership had made illegal comp time buyouts to agency employees who were already making over $100,000, according to the audit. The former commissioner of the department received an illegal buyout of $109,446 and a former Deputy Commissioner received over $240,000 in buyouts, the auditor alleged.
The department also spent $43,299 in gym equipment without proper documentation, and $2,695 on six TVs for the executive suite.
The audit findings will be given to the investigations division of the auditor’s office and federal authorities, according to a statement from White’s office.
“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,” White said in the statement.
State Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain said that he asked for the auditor to take a look at their finances after executives in February found an issue with comp time payouts earlier this year.
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.
The Department of Correction had worked “tirelessly” to address misspending in the report.
Changes include stopping comp time payments, starting a full property inventory of the department, turning over unneeded property to the state’s surplus agency, and limiting travel to only what is needed for operations, the statement said.
“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,” said state Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain 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.”
The Insidexpress is now on Telegram and Google News. Join us on Telegram and Google News, and stay updated.