A Limited-Scope Review of the Department of Corrections
Members of the General Assembly requested the Legislative Audit Council to conduct a review of certain issues at the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC). Our audit focused on agency expenditures, litigation costs, personnel practices, procurement practices, and agency internal controls. Our findings are summarized below.
• We reviewed agency expenditures and appropriations for FY 99-00 through FY 07-08. We found that SCDC’s total expenditures decreased between FY 00-01 and FY 03-04 and then began increasing in FY 04-05. SCDC’s total expenditures for FY 07-08 were 10% higher than they were for FY 99-00 and were about equal to FY 00-01 expenditures.
• SCDC has a number of performance measures in its accountability report and on its website. Some of these measures compare SCDC’s performance to other states. We reviewed several of these measures and question the reliability and validity of two of them.
• We reviewed SCDC’s personnel practices and did not find a widespread pattern of favoritism or deviation from SCDC policies. However, we did find specific instances where SCDC did not adhere to its policies, which resulted in the incorrect applicant being selected. We also found areas where SCDC could improve its hiring process.
• We reviewed SCDC’s litigation costs covered by the Insurance Reserve Fund (IRF) to determine if there had been an increase in lawsuits filed by both employees and inmates. Based upon IRF data, we cannot conclude whether litigation costs have increased during the current administration. According to IRF officials, the data regarding lawsuits is “immature” due to a two-year lag in reporting and filing lawsuits and the time lag associated with the litigation itself. Accordingly, at this time, there is no visible statistical pattern to indicate an increase in litigation costs.
• SCDC also incurs litigation costs for claims not covered by the IRF. (Examples include breach of contract suits; suits seeking injunctive relief; and suits seeking return of property). Since 2001, SCDC attorney fees increased from approximately $36,000 to $408,000 in 2008. SCDC has also increased its prepaid legal defense coverage. Since 2001, SCDC has increased its coverage from $15,000 to $500,000 in 2008.
• We reviewed SCDC’s practice of allowing inmates to miss meals as a result of violations of agency rules. An attorney general’s opinion found no state law prohibiting SCDC’s practice but did suggest written guidelines be established in order to avoid possible constitutional violations.
• We reviewed SCDC’s policies and procedures regarding inmate escapes. Overall, the number of escapes from SCDC custody has decreased. We examined SCDC’s reporting of escape data and did not find any significant problems. We found that SCDC has complied with its escapee return policy. We were unable to obtain reliable data to be able to make a state-to-state comparison on the number of escapes.
• We reviewed the state-owned residence provided without charge to SCDC’s director. We found no need to provide a residence to the director and that only two other states provide their directors with residences. Also, SCDC spends state resources on utilities and maintenance of the residence. Further, the residence was used as office space for SCDC’s programs and services division between 2000 and 2001. SCDC states that the residence provides a valuable recruiting tool and that selling the residence would provide no significant savings to the state.
• We reviewed SCDC’s policies, procedures, and internal controls for safeguarding agency cattle and other livestock. We found that SCDC, in response to the theft of two steer in December 2006, established several internal controls over its livestock operation. Some of the controls are effective at accounting for cattle transactions and should help to deter theft. However, other controls are either not sufficient to detect theft or are not being fully implemented.
• We reviewed an incident where SCDC awarded procurement contracts to a tree cutting service that is owned by a former SCDC inmate. We did not find any language that would prohibit SCDC from contracting with a vendor who was a former inmate. We found that the amount of the procurement was below the $1,500 threshold requiring competitive bids. We could not determine how the vendor was chosen because the individuals who approved the use of this tree cutting service are no longer employed by SCDC. According to SCDC officials, use of this vendor has been banned by the agency.
Review of Issues by the National Institute of Corrections
In order to address certain audit objectives, we consulted with the National Institute of Corrections (NIC). The NIC is an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons which contracts with experts in corrections to provide technical assistance to state and local correctional agencies. The full NIC report is available on our website.
The NIC reviewed a hostage incident at Ridgeland Correctional Institution, an incident where an inmate was provided a homemade knife at Lee Correctional Institution, the agency’s internal controls for handling keys, weapons, and ammunition, and a limited assessment of SCDC’s escape prevention policies. The NIC found the following:
• Regarding a hostage incident that took place at Ridgeland Correctional Institution in November, SCDC’s policies included all the organizational and response requirements needed to address emergencies that might arise. Also, SCDC’s decision to rely on negotiations to resolve the situation was appropriate. Finally, the NIC reviewed SCDC’s command structure. The NIC concluded that the actions taken by SCDC relating to command were not inconsistent or unexpected given the situation. However, the NIC recommended that SCDC incorporate a more flexible and functional command philosophy.
• Regarding an August 2005 incident at Lee Correctional Facility in which a supervisor provided an inmate with a homemade knife as part of a training exercise for two correctional officers, the NIC concluded that, while the supervisor’s intent was to point up the importance of conducting appropriate searches, the supervisor’s method for demonstrating the importance of proper searches was not acceptable. Chief among the problems was the decision to use a real weapon when another item could have been used. The NIC also stated that the use of an inmate as part of the test is generally not a good practice. The NIC recommended that SCDC develop a written policy concerning security system checks.
• The NIC conducted a review of the adequacy of agency internal controls for handling keys, weapons, and ammunition. The NIC found very limited opportunities for improvement in the area of key control. In the area of weapons and ammunition, the NIC found that, in general, SCDC’s policies were thorough and comprehensive. The NIC also reviewed an incident where a revolver and six rounds of ammunition were discovered missing. The NIC concluded that the incident resulted from staff performance failure. According to the NIC, staff involved were disciplined.
• NIC officials performed a limited assessment of the SCDC’s escape prevention policies and found all primary elements for escape prevention to be present in policy.
During the course of our review, requestors of this audit asked us to expand our audit scope to include a review of additional issues. We conducted some preliminary work and determined that other state agencies have the expertise necessary to appropriately evaluate some of these issues.
• We were asked to compare the pay of SCDC correctional officers, wardens, and other operational staff to other states and to other agencies within South Carolina. The Budget and Control Board’s (B&CB’s) Office of Human Resources (OHR) has the capability and expertise to conduct salary studies and has done so in the past for various state agencies.
• We were also asked to review SCDC’s use of confidential license plates to determine whether the agency has appropriately justified plate assignments. Ninety (10%) of SCDC’s 950 vehicles have confidential plates. The B&CB’s State Fleet Management Division has the statutory authority to approve these plates and is the most appropriate agency to examine SCDC’s use of confidential plates. During the course of our review, SCDC stated that it intends to remove confidential tags from 13 of its vehicles.