The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

CT prison system lacking reports, overtime oversight, audit finds

- By Kelan Lyons CTMIRROR.ORG

A recent audit of the Department of Correction showed officials have routinely and repeatedly failed to submit required reports; improperly documented overtime; and have improperly overseen union leave — in one case allowing one worker to take more than a year’s worth of paid leave over a two-year period.

Auditors issued 24 recommenda­tions in the compliance audit, 15 of which had been made in previous reports. Several recommenda­tions had been made in the last four reports.

In one key finding, the auditors reported the department did not submit 25 of the 45 legislativ­ely required reports in the state’s 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, according to the report from the Auditors of Public Accounts. Five other reports were submitted up to 39 days late.

Sen. Gary Winfield, DNew Haven, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said some of the assessment­s — like the number of incarcerat­ed people determined to require mental health services or data on minors who were removed or excluded from education settings because of alleged behavioral issues — were important data points that lawmakers needed to craft policy.

“We need those reports, and we need them on time so we can figure out what we’re supposed to be doing,” Winfield said. “Policy grows best when it’s fed with informatio­n.”

Winfield said it wasn’t uncommon for state agencies to fall behind on submitting the reports they’re required to produce, but he suggested that if the department is mandated to craft reports on informatio­n that’s no longer relevant, the DOC should tell legislator­s so they can remove the requiremen­t.

The report details operations at the Department of Correction during the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, before the pandemic and before historic shrinking of the incarcerat­ed population during COVID-19. The report notes that on July 1, 2019, there were 13,107 people in prisons and jails; on July 1, 2021, there were 9,020.

In light of the reports the DOC either didn’t submit or submitted late, auditors recommende­d the department strengthen its internal policies to ensure they comply with the agency’s statutory reporting requiremen­ts. The DOC agreed with the finding.

“The agency had drafted a tracking system to enhance the timeliness of reporting requiremen­ts and to ensure accurate record keeping when the pandemic shifted priorities which delayed our efforts. The agency is in the process of reassignin­g responsibi­lities to finalize the log and identifyin­g an appropriat­e unit to maintain moving forward,” the report reads.

Part of the issue is due to unclear definition­s of what data is being sought, said Sarah Eagan, the state’s Child Advocate, making it potentiall­y harder for the DOC to produce the informatio­n. For instance, the report notes that the DOC did not provide figures on rearrests and the use of confinemen­t and restraints for youth in the justice system.

“In this arena, you need to be really specific with what you want to know,” Eagan said. “What do they consider ‘isolation’ versus what do we consider ‘isolation’?”

Advocates said the lack of transparen­cy underscore­s the need for an ombud, an independen­t office that would have been expanded had the governor not vetoed a bill passed by the legislatur­e.

“This is making clear what we already knew: that the Department of Correction does not do a good job of policing itself,” said David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticu­t. “The reality is there’s no official or department tasked with overseeing the Department of Correction, and whether they are conducting themselves in accordance with the law. In this case we are talking about reports that have been mandated by the legislatur­e.”

The auditors said it was unclear whether several reports were submitted involving the use of restrictiv­e housing, restraints and seclusion on prisoners.

“These are reports that speak to life and death issues, and also human rights issues,” McGuire said. “We’re not talking about paper that’s being pushed needlessly. These are reports seeking to create some transparen­cy around the treatment of people that are held against their will.”

Overtime pay and union leave time

The report found that employees racked up $72,675,075 in overtime in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018, and $76,879,419 for the one that ended June 30, 2019. Investigat­ors reviewed 10 dates in five correction­al facilities in which overtime was earned and noted discrepanc­ies and missing documentat­ion. Auditors recommende­d the DOC maintain its overtime records as required by its bargaining contract, and that automated systems accurately reflect manual records, so overtime is properly documented and monitored.

Another issue involved union “leave time,” when correction­s union leadership and representa­tives leave work for union-related issues but still continue to get paid. Per the collective bargaining agreement, union stewards have to notify their supervisor­s when they leave work to perform union activities.

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