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Local News

DOC Pushes Back Against Findings in Community Corrections Audit

Credit: iStock

by Isiah Holmes, Wisconsin Examiner
April 19, 2023

The Department of Corrections (DOC) objects to some of the findings in an audit conducted by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, which found problems with the department’s community corrections program. In a letter to committee chairs responding to the audit, DOC Secretary Kevin Carr questioned the methods the audit used to make its recommendations and conclusions. The department also blasted the audit’s review of risk and needs assessments, anecdotal accounts from surveyed staff, and “erroneous data” in determining the hold outcomes of calls placed by law enforcement.

Carr expressed his disappointment to the committee in his letter. “Our teams had a robust conversation during our exit conference,” wrote Carr. “I am sure you can understand our disappointment that a majority of our feedback is not included and several factual errors we raised remain in the final report.” At certain points, Carr wrote, the audit presented information which the DOC felt was inaccurate, “as well as some conclusions we feel are unsound and unsubstantiated.”

Among the audit’s findings were that risk and needs assessments were not completed within 30 days of individuals being assigned to community supervision. The audit found that 35.8% of the initial risk and needs assessments were not completed in a timely manner. The department, however, asserts that the audit used an incorrect metric for measuring whether a risk and needs assessment was timely.

Intake processes, which includes the assessment, are not considered overdue until after 60 days of an individual being placed on supervision. The audit also didn’t account for clients which refused assessments, those who have absconded, or individuals who are on supervision for a short period of time. In its response to the auditors’ conclusions, the DOC noted that one of the main causes of overdue intakes is non-availability on the client’s part. “DOC is committed to quality outcomes in a timely manner, however, vacancies can impact how the agency prioritizes and manages workload, and can account for the regional differences [Legislative Audit Bureau] notes in the report,” the  DOC response included in the report  states. “For example, LAB noted Region 3 had the highest amount of overdue work. It is critical to point out this region increased its probation and parole agent vacancy rate from 4.71% to 13.8% from January of 2019 to December of 2021.”

Secretary Carr has worked alongside Gov. Tony Evers to increase compensation for DOC employees, including probation and parole agents, in an effort to improve recruitment and retention and address the labor shortage. It will be up to the Legislature, however, to decide whether to accept the provision in Ever’s proposed 2023-25 budget. The audit also didn’t recognize the DOC’s compliance in its collection of restitution and other financial obligations for individuals under supervision. The department also complies with all statutory requirements to evaluate the effectiveness of its community services program through the annual Beck Young Community Corrections report, DOC points out The DOC’s complaints about  the audit also extend to its assessment of how violations are investigated.

The department argues that the audit conflates documentation of the violation investigation outcome with whether an investigation of a violation was completed. “The findings by LAB demonstrate a need for our agency to enhance training related to proper documentation of investigations and should not be misinterpreted to mean there are compliance issues related to the completion of investigations,” the DOC stated in its response to the audit.

It’s the department’s position that the vast majority of violations are investigated. There were also concerns about the audit’s reliance on anecdotes from DOC staff regarding its policies. “I would be remiss if I did not reiterate my concern expressed previously regarding the extent to which this report formulates recommendations based on the opinion of individuals who are not subject matter experts in evidence-based responses to violations,” Carr wrote in his letter to the committee. “Drawing conclusions based on anecdotal opinions is concerning.”

Carr added that “the most significant responsibility of [the Division of Community Corrections] is the work of our probation and parole agents who supervise adults placed on probation by the courts or released from confinement to extended supervision on parole. DCC staff have a multitude of responsibilities to both provide opportunities for clients to make changes in their lives while holding them accountable when they fail to comply with their conditions of supervision. These functions should not be viewed as mutually exclusive.” Carr  went on to state that “the report does not give credence to the Department’s commitment to implement nationally recognized practices and maintain an evidence-based response to violations.”

What consequences the DOC imposed on individuals on community supervision is another area at issue. The DOC reached out to the LAB to learn of its methodology, but did not get a response. This led the DOC to conduct its own analysis of the same data provided to the LAB. “DOC’s analysis indicates LAB used erroneous data in determining the hold outcomes of calls placed to the monitoring center by law enforcement,” the department’s response to the audit states. Upon conducting its own review, the DOC noted problems with  the data including duplicates due to clerical errors. Some data wasn’t requested by the LAB at all. The DOC has worked to improve data collection, including efforts in 2019 to review and evaluate policies, procedures, and practices associated with evidence based responses to violations. As a result, multiple data systems were given modifications, upgrades or improvements.

“We are committed to our mission of public safety and providing opportunities for positive change and success for the individuals under our supervision,” Carr wrote in his letter to the audit committee. “We will continue to review and evaluate our violation response initiative and make data-informed changes as needed.” This isn’t the first time the audit bureau’s work has been called into question. Late last year, the Wisconsin Elections Commission blasted the bureau for errors and digressions from normal auditing procedures in a report on the administration of the 2020 election. Commission members weren’t given an opportunity to review a draft of the audit, as the bureau sought to maintain confidentiality. The lack of a review led to errors which went unaddressed for over a month, according to the bipartisan commission.

This story was written by Isiah Holmes, a contributor to the Wisconsin Examiner, where this story first appeared.

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