Gross misspending revealed in Miss. DOC audit

There was improper purchasing of massage chairs, rugs, art, Himalayan salt lamps, CDs and other items


By Margaret Baker
The Sun Herald

JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi State Auditor's Office issued a report Thursday about an audit that uncovered gross misspending by the former administration at the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Current MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain asked for the audit when he took over. State Auditor Shad White released the findings Thursday after its completion.

The audit uncovered gross misspending that resulted in what White described as a significant loss in taxpayer dollars.

Here are some of the highlights from the report:

  • Burned or destroyed accounting records
  • Cashed out illegal "comp time" buyouts paid to agency leaders, most of whom made over six figures a year.
  • Improper purchasing of massage chairs, rugs, art, Himalayan salt lamps, CDs and other items for meditation rooms at various MDOC facilities
  • Thousands of dollars in improper spending to upgrade MDOC's executive suite
  • Improper reimbursements for thousands of dollars in travel
  • Improper spending on a king-size bed, dresser and bedroom set for the prison warden along with bathroom towel set holder, a vanity mirror, motion-sensor door chimes and six televisions for the commissioner's executive suite.

The misspending and other violations occurred between July 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2019, and when former Commissioner Pelicia Hall was in charge. Hall announced her retirement on Dec. 31, 2019, saying she was going to work in the private sector.

Prior to taking over as a commissioner, she was MDOC's chief of staff, serving in that position since 2015.

"I want to thank the current staff of MDOC," White said Thursday. "They brought many of these issues to us. Without them, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to uncover some of the misspending here. It is encouraging to see their proactive approach to fixing the problems."

White called what was found in the audit "infuriating" because it showed "such waste when more money needs to be spent on the frontline corrections officers and directly in Mississippi's prisons."

In addition, the audit uncovered serious problems at the state's restitution centers, revealing that many offenders had already worked enough to pay back what they owed but remained in the centers because officials didn't tell them they had met their obligations.

The majority of findings from the audit are being turned over to the investigation division of the auditor's office, while some of what was uncovered is being handed over to federal authorities for further criminal investigation.

The blistering report comes at a time when the state prison system has been operating with minimal funding, so much so that officials have had a hard time hiring guards as lawsuits mount from prisoners and others about unsanitary conditions and prisons in disrepair.

In addition to records reviewed by those conducting the audit, White said, those who handled it did walk-throughs in the prison facilities and conducted staff interviews.

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(c)2020 The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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