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dir="ltr">A new two-year audit of the Illinois Department of Corrections found employee misuse of sick leave, vacation time and overtime, something that a prison watchdog said not only hurts taxpayers, but can put inmates and employees at risk.
The audit showed that the department made some improvements, including establishing a grievance system, but some findings have dogged the state agency for decades. For example, the audit noted the department still doesn't have an automated payroll or timekeeping system, a finding repeated since 1998.
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The Illinois Auditor General released its two-year compliance audit of the Illinois Department of Corrections on Wednesday. The review found the department spent nearly $2 billion in fiscal year 2018, or nearly $700 million more than the year before. The inmate population declined from 45,817 to 41,704 over two years.
John Howard Association Executive Director Jenny Vollen-Katz noted that some findings from a previous audit didn't show up again on the most recent audit. One finding Vollen-Katz said was in the 2016 audit was that the IDOC didn’t have a grievance log.
“And now they do maintain a grievance log, which is a good thing and something that we had asked them to do a long time ago,” she said. “However, that does not mean that we have a functional grievance system.”
The audit also found the department used 977,742 hours of overtime at a cost of nearly $43 million in fiscal year 2018.
Out of a sample of employees, auditors found 20 percent used a full day of leave at least once during the year the same day they worked an overtime shift. There were 15 different instances of an employee using a full day leave the same day they also worked overtime. In one instance, an employee used leave time the same day as working overtime for 12 different days.
“We requested any union agreements that allow overtime pay on the same day that leave time is taken; however, the department could not provide any,” the audit said. “[I]n December 2016, the Department’s Chief of Operations issued an e-mail memorandum to facility wardens which stated, ‘employees who utilize a full shift of pre-approved benefit time off on their regularly assigned shift, shall not be eligible for an overtime offering for [n]either the preceding shift nor the following shift.’ The Department took no further corrective actions during the audit period.”
Vollen-Katz said that’s not only bad economically and something that’s not tolerated in the private sector, but it’s also dangerous for everyone inside prison walls from employees to inmates.
“We don’t want people that are overworked, that are tired, that are not coming to work each day as prepared and as alert as they should be in order to keep everybody inside the facility safe,” Vollen-Katz said.
The audit also found IDOC didn’t have an automated payroll or timekeeping program, a finding repeated since 1998.
“[T]he lack of an automated timekeeping system increases the risk of errors and reduces control efficiencies,” the audit said. “The Department accepts the finding and will work towards securing the resources needed to implement an automated timekeeping system. Until such time that those resources are made available, the Department will train its staff on the proper timekeeping techniques and work towards minimizing any errors resulting from manual entry.”
Another audit finding was that the IDOC failed to conduct metal detector searches of inmates, especially where inmates worked in kitchens or mechanical rooms with metal objects. Metal detectors at six centers were not used in such instances when inmates exited the area, the audit found.
“Failure to properly conduct metal detector searches of inmates upon leaving areas where metal is present poses multiple safety and liability concerns for Center employees and inmates,” the audit said.
The audit found noncompliance on how profits from the commissary funds were managed, a lack of fiscal controls on various programs, projects, and equipment, and at least two former inmates being improperly listed a "murderer" and "violent offender against youth." The department also failed to comply with aspects of the Arsonist Registration Act.
Ultimately, Vollen-Katz said the department has a lot of issues regarding compliance with state and federal laws.
“We need the agency to be able to do better from both a resource and efficiency perspective, but also humane treatment and outcomes perspective,” she said.
The audit said the department agreed with the findings and recommendations to come into compliance on a host of issues.