JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – The Mississippi Department of Corrections is in hot water after a recent audit uncovered widespread misspending and abusing public funds by previous leadership.
Former MDOC Commissioner Pelicia Hall’s name is all over this audit because while cell blocks in Parchman were covered in mold, with no working toilets and showers or edible food she was spending millions of unauthorized comp pay in addition to purchasing luxury office furnishings and traveling the world.
Before the pandemic Mississippi was dealing with a major crisis in the state prison system. Activists and national prison experts called conditions inhumane.
“By far this is the worst jail or prison I’ve seen in the United States in nearly 20 years,” a Prison Reform analys told us back in January.
Though not capable of fixing every problem, Auditor Shad White sees massive misspending at the top contributing to mdoc staff shortages and prisons lacking proper care.
“It’s infuriating to look and see money being spent in a way that doesn’t benefit the real folks on the frontlines,” White expressed. “If you’re asking me would it solve all the problems in the prisons no I don’t think it would.”
In 17 findings of former Commissioner Pelicia Hall’s administration the first big red flag shows she authorized illegal payments in lump sum comp time for herself and Deputy Commissioners ranging from $109,646 up to $240,497. Average comp payouts for them would normally be between $40,000-$77,000.
“The top agency leadership had the agency buy back their comp time,” White explained. “In other words they got the taxpayers to pay them extra when it’s not allowed under the law. The biggest dollar amounts that got bought back went to top agency leadership.”
The fraud continues with former Commissioner Hall taking non-work related trips on MDOC money to Bar Association, Trial Settlement, and Judge Conferences. Along with non-approved trips out of the country but getting reimbursed almost $9,000 for it.
“There were critical documents at MDOC that had been destroyed,” White said. “Some of the staff over at MDOC said they had been destroyed on accident but as you can imagine it’s really difficult to feel confident you got to the bottom of everything.”
MDOC argued those public records and required travel vouchers or receipts simply got mixed up somehow with destruction documents and got burned. But records that were saved showed the agency spent another $42,000 on 20 massage chairs and a Himalayan Salt Lamp, boom boxes and cd’s.
This audit request was made by the current MDOC director Burl Cain who acknowledged the agency is stepping up to fix all misconduct.
The audit of MDOC, which was requested by current MDOC leadership, revealed:
- Vital accounting records had been burned or destroyed by previous agency leadership, which limited evidence of many agency purchases.
- MDOC leadership made illegal “comp” time buyouts to top agency leaders. When an employee has worked more hours than a normal workweek, they sometimes earn compensatory time – “comp time.” Accumulating comp time allows those employees to take time off later and still be paid. In some situations, an employee may ask the agency to “buy back” the comp time (to be paid instead of taking time off). A “buy back” is only legal for certain employees and under certain conditions. In this case, large, illegal buyouts were given to some agency employees already making over $100,000 per year in salary. The former Commissioner of MDOC received an illegal buyout of $109,446. Another former Deputy Commissioner received over $240,000 in buyouts, including
one lump sum payment of $160,000.
- Thousands in improper travel reimbursements were paid to the former Commissioner of MDOC.
- Thousands in improper travel reimbursements were paid to a member of the State Parole Board.
- Twenty massage chairs were purchased for MDOC staff, along with thousands spent on rugs, art, Himalayan salt lamps, CDs, and other items for multiple meditation rooms at MDOC facilities.
- Thousands were spent to upgrade MDOC’s executive suite.
Some of the findings in the audit will now be handed to the Investigations Division at the Office of the State Auditor and other portions have been forwarded to federal authorities. The full audit report can be found online at the Auditor’s website.
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