All the attention in our region has been on prison issues in upstate New York in recent weeks. But next door, a report by the Vermont state auditor is critical of the Department of Corrections’ transitional housing program for released inmates.
In 2013, the Vermont auditor responded to a whistleblower complaint regarding one grantee providing transitional housing services for the Department of Corrections. In response, Corrections developed a new oversight plan for its service providers.
State Auditor Doug Hoffer says his office then followed up with a full audit on the grantees and probation and parole offices with whom they interact. “The department for its part did say that they intended to adopt better policies and procedures and would make some changes. So we gave them a year or so. A little bit more actually and then decided to look at the entire program and see how well they had done. As it turned out there is still room for improvement both in the oversight and in the performance by the contracted entities. Actually they’re grantees. I’m not entirely surprised. Some of it’s a resource issue. The Commissioner to his credit was gracious and said yes we agree you found some areas where we need to improve. And they’re going to try.”
The grantees are required to produce a service plan. The audit found that to be a key problem area. “The data questions about specifically whether the services that are necessary are being provided to these folks. And that’s where there have been some reporting problems. Even before the however there is a requirement that they produce a service plan for each individual in the program and many, not all, but many of these entities that we looked at – we looked at nine of the twenty-five –have some work to do in that regard. As for whether the program is successful overall you can’t really say it’s successful unless you know whether the public is safe. That requires collecting a little more data about recidivism for example. They still have some work to do in that regard.”
In his response letter to Hoffer, Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito says his department is working to make improvements to the program. He also says there is extensive monitoring of service providers including regular meetings with program managers and liaisons.
Department of Corrections Community and Restorative Justice Executive Derek Miodownik notes that the auditor did not have a problem with the concept of the program, but rather with how the department proves the grantees provide appropriate services. “What wasn’t reflected and is also a key piece of how we know that services are being provided and how we are accountable to the public is a whole lot of this on-going information and communication flow that lives in a number of different places but is less consolidated and to that extent probably a little less easy to audit and to see. But no less important.”
Miodownik says they are now in the process of making changes to address the auditor’s concerns. “For example we’re now in the process of standardizing a service plan template. So that’s something that we are crafting internally but then will be implemented at our sites.”
According to the Vermont auditor, the state Corrections Department spends up to $60 thousand dollars a year to house each in-state inmate. The transitional housing program spends less than $20,000 per inmate.