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State prison officials say changes are being made

ANNAPOLIS — State prison officials on Tuesday told legislators reviewing a very negative audit of their Baltimore Region financial operations that personnel problems helped cause large gaps in financial accountability, but they were making changes.

“Looking at this audit, it’s horrendous some of those things that occurred,” said Gary Maynard, secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services. “But I think those things will be of the past and we will move forward,” because the unit had been reorganized.

The legislative auditors found an “almost complete lack of control and accountability” for the corrections region’s working funds, including thousands of dollars in penalties for bounced checks, checking accounts out of balance by hundreds of thousands of dollars and checks machine-signed by people who no longer worked at the department. Auditors have referred their findings to the Office of the Attorney General for potential criminal charges.

Del. Steven DeBoy Jr., House chairman of the Joint Audit Committee, said he wasn’t satisfied with the department’s response. He said that staffing changes may be doing some good, but the bigger issue seemed to be ignored.

“What’s getting lost in all of this is there’s criminal stuff here. That’s what bothers me,” said DeBoy, a Democrat who represents parts of Baltimore and Howard counties, and who is a retired Baltimore County police officer. “If we have people in the Baltimore region stealing money, I have a problem with that. When we start referring stuff to the AG’s office for investigation, the hair on the back of my neck starts standing up.

“I don’t think that’s a personnel issue and we need to get more people. If we have people stealing, we need to get them out of state service.”

Maynard and Corrections Commissioner J. Michael Stouffer said they had been aware of severe problems with financial controls in the Baltimore region even before the audit was done. Stouffer said there were problems with policies and procedures, which led to a widespread lack of accountability. There were also significant problems recruiting and retaining people, meaning it took some time to put any organization-wide changes in place.

Ultimately, the department removed the financial management arm of the Baltimore region, which includes the Supermax in Baltimore, and combined it with its counterpart in the Jessup Region. The now-larger Jessup-based office, which also had two other smaller regions folded in, now employs 85 people and handles the financial issues of the wider area.

“Generally speaking, we tried to remove the issues of complacency with staff there, and increase accountability,” Stouffer said. “We standardized operations, and there were some results there.”

The audit found that the region’s two working funds — a general working fund for office uses and an inmate working fund made up of inmates’ money — did not have adequate controls. Balances were not reconciled — and money was found to be missing, checking accounts were routinely overdrawn, and open access to checks and the signature plate led to questionable withdrawals.

Stouffer said five people involved in some of the questionable activity have been disciplined. More problems have gone unpunished because those employees quit before anything could happen.

Sen. Verna Jones, a Baltimore City Democrat and the Senate chair of the Joint Audit Committtee, asked Maynard and Stouffer to present a progress report by the end of January, as well as a more detailed report before the budget process.