IDOC officials criticized over audit findings, future of Pontiac prison
SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - State lawmakers grilled officials from the Illinois Department of Corrections Wednesday over weaknesses found in the department’s lack of financial reporting, including how taxpayer money was used within prisons. IDOC Director Rob Jeffreys said the response to COVID-19 in prisons was the top priority for the agency during the time of the most recent audit.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for every state agency. However, Director Jeffreys told the Legislative Audit Commission that IDOC was understaffed and took on an enhanced workload to keep everyone inside prisons safe. There are approximately 12,600 full-time employees accounted for in the department’s budget, but Jeffreys said there is currently a shortage of 1,100 employees.
“It just underscores the amount of stress that staff had to go through to deal with the COVID-19 protocols and outbreaks, and manage a facility that operates 24/7,” Jeffreys said. “And that’s just not in custody, but also in mental health, our medical services and yes our support staff too.”
State auditors found 60 issues within IDOC during the two-year audit ending June 30, 2020. Yet, 46 of those issues were repeated findings from previous audits.
Auditor General Frank Mautino said his office had to wait months to receive the required paperwork from IDOC.
“There’s no reason for four letters from me,” Mautino said. “There is no reason for those types of delays when a normal FOIA request would be answered in five days.”
Jeffreys explained that IDOC did not have a chief internal auditor during most of the auditing period. Although, the agency hired someone to fill that role and provide documents to the state in a timely manner as requested. Mautino hopes the agency will be able to come into compliance before the next audit is finished.
“You would not have had 60 findings in this round had we not had to give exceptions for information that we didn’t have,” Mautino said.
Financial reporting wasn’t the only problem commission members wanted to discuss Wednesday. Republican and Democratic lawmakers from Central Illinois have renewed their calls for answers about roughly 170 inmates being transferred out of the Pontiac Correctional Center in February with little to no notice for facility staff.
Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) said that situation led to rumors about a partial closure of the prison, reducing the population by 60%.
“There’s many lawmakers who represent many of these facilities. We’ve got to have the confidence that we’re not putting the public at risk, that we’re not putting our staff and guards at risk,” Barickman said. “And I’m here to convey to you that I have very serious concerns about what transpired here.”
Jeffreys stressed that he never said he would close the Pontiac facility. He noted that the correctional center was short-staffed by 43% and the department didn’t want younger staff to work seven days a week. Jeffreys said that the state had to consolidate resources to save the staff.
“I’m trying to run an agency. I’m trying to do it with the best resources I have available,” Jeffreys told Barickman. “But once again, I employ, I need your help to get job fairs. I need your help to tell folks, ‘Yes, this is a viable community.’”
Barickman said he is willing to host job fairs to help attract workers to the Pontiac facility. Jeffreys refused to say if he would participate in a town hall with taxpayers concerned about the future of the correctional center.
Commission Chair Fred Crespo (D-Downers Grove) said he hopes something productive comes out of the conversation Wednesday to help hire more employees and address the future of the Pontiac facility. Meanwhile, Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) said Jeffreys has to understand that lawmakers speak on behalf of taxpayers.
“Sometimes we can ask tough questions and sometimes we’re gonna ask heated questions. But the bottom line is, we have the authority to ask those questions on behalf of the people we represent,” Rose said. “The way the interaction occurred with Sen. Barickman is unbelievable to me. You, I, he - all of us - serve the taxpayers. And he has a right to ask any questions that he wants to ask. Frankly, sir, you should go and speak to the taxpayers as well.”
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