Audits of jail fund sought

State bill proposes county oversight of inmate money

Added level of supervision

Council approval would be required for some spending

February 19, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Responding to a federal mandate for better accounting of money used for prison programs, state lawmakers have proposed legislation that would require the Anne Arundel County Council to oversee a fund that provides educational and recreational materials to inmates.

Under the bill, the County Council would approve spending from the inmate welfare fund, which pays for items such as library books and exercise equipment at the county's two detention centers. The fund also provides personal hygiene items for inmates who can't afford them.

"It provides another level of accountability," said Del. Joan Cadden, a Brooklyn Park Democrat.

Profits from commissary sales and inmates' phone calls finance the inmate welfare fund, officials said at a presentation Friday to Anne Arundel County delegates. Each year, the county collects about $300,000 from the profits of selling candy bars and potato chips to county prisoners, said Richard J. Baker, superintendent of the county detention centers. The county delegates could vote as early as this week on whether to recommend the measure.

Cadden, who leads the House Public Safety and Administration subcommittee, said state inmate welfare funds already have a level of legislative oversight similar to that being sought by Anne Arundel County.

The county's inmate welfare fund is subject to county oversight, including routine audits, according to Baker and James M. Hurley, the director of business services for the county's Department of Detention Services.

State law requires the fund be used for products and services that benefit the general inmate population.

Detention center officials provide county officials with monthly accountings of the profits from commissary sales, officials said. To use money from the inmate welfare fund, the detention center must make requests through the county's purchasing office.

The county officials' new role wouldn't change the way the money is collected or how it will be spent, Baker said. But he said the law is necessary to meet federal accounting standards.

"It's more of a formality than anything," Baker said of the proposed role for the County Council. Although inmates' individual accounts had long been a source of complaints and abuse, Baker told legislators on Friday that accounting has already been improved.

A detention center worker pleaded guilty in 1988 to embezzling $35,000 from inmates' accounts that relatives and friends deposit money into so that the inmates can make phone calls and buy personal items.

At that time, one person kept track of inmates' money, Baker said. To resolve complaints from inmates and their families about the accounts not being accurate, five staff members now process the individual accounts, he added.

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