State prisons audit shows lost U.S. funds

December 06, 2006|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,Sun reporter

Maryland lost about $3.5 million during the past four years because state prison administrators didn't charge the federal government enough to cover the cost of housing federal prisoners, according to a legislative audit released yesterday.

The daily reimbursement rate of $132 has remained unchanged since 1999 even though the cost to house federal inmates at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore has risen to $162, auditors wrote.

The audit suggested that state corrections officials renegotiate the federal contract each year to fully recover such costs.

"The contract with the U.S. Department of Justice provides for the reimbursement of the costs for housing, safekeeping, and subsistence of federal prisoners and may be renegotiated once per year," auditors noted.

In a written response, Wendell France, assistant director of the Maryland Division of Correction, said the agency agrees with the audit finding.

Administrators "will evaluate the costs incurred to house federal prisoners and investigate the feasibility of annually renegotiating the contractual per diem rate," France wrote.

Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the state houses between 100 and 150 federal inmates each day at the 388-bed Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, also known as Supermax.

Maryland has a contract to house federal prisoners as they await trials or other proceedings in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Vernarelli said.

Auditors, who examined the operations of prisons and jails in the Baltimore region in their report, also said that state prison officials did a poor job overseeing inmate accounts.

Inmate accounts hold money prisoners earn or that is given to them by family members to use for commissary purchases or other purposes.

The region received $2.1 million in collections on behalf of inmates during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2005, and $1.1 million during the first half of the next fiscal year, the report says.

Auditors wrote that they found "an almost complete lack of control and accountability over inmate funds. ... These conditions are highly conducive to fraudulent activity, although our testing did not disclose any specific fraudulent transactions by employees."

Auditors also faulted the state for not promptly canceling corporate purchasing card accounts for terminated employees and failing to retain documentation to support certain purchases.

And auditors found inadequate control over equipment, including security items such as bulletproof vests.

In his response, France said the agency agrees with the findings and is working to correct the problems noted by auditors.

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