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Legislative committee reviews MDOC budget requests, departmental policies

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

Mississippi Department of Corrections (Photo from MDOC website)

Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain says MDOC is doing the best it can to be good stewards of taxpayer money while maintaining security.

A report issued by the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, or PEER, found that the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) requested more funding than the agency spent during the fiscal years of 2018 to 2023.

According to the report, the average appropriation request from the department during those years was $15 million in additional funding, with a total average request of $379,060,017. The lowest budget request was submitted in 2019, totaling $355,426,382.

Actual appropriations from the Legislature to MDOC averaged $28 million less than the department requested during those years, or about 7 percent, the report cites. 

In all of the fiscal years listed, with the exception of 2022, MDOC requested additional appropriations for contractual services in one or more of the categories of medical service, private prison, regional facility, and local facility. 

Expenditures by the agency did not meet actual appropriations, leading to a fund balance in all years, the largest of which was $6.6 million in 2018. The lowest fund balance was $3.1 million in 2019.

The report states the agency’s fiscal planning does not have transparency, interdepartmental continuity or foundational models. 

“This contributes to a lack of clarity within MDOC’s budgetary decisions and fiscal planning and MDOC’s reliance on additional appropriation requests,” the report states. 

MDOC responded to the finding in the report, stating the budget procedures are not at fault for relying on deficit appropriation. The report highlights that MDOC has been significantly underfunded by the Legislature, citing the $28 million difference. 

“MDOC has diligently adhered to sound budgetary procedures. However, it is clear from the report that the substantial underfunding by the Legislature has played a pivotal role in the need for deficit appropriations. MDOC remains committed to fiscal responsibility and will continue working collaboratively with the Legislature to ensure budgetary alignment and mitigate reliance on deficit appropriations,” the agency cited in the response. 

When reached for comment by the Magnolia Tribune concerning the appropriations requests, Commissioner Burl Cain issued the following written statement: 

MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain

It’s no secret that MDOC has had to significantly increase salaries and benefits just to try to attract an adequate workforce. It’s also no secret that inflation has hit all of us at record levels so all of our supplies, equipment and renovations have escalated substantially. We are doing the best we can to be good stewards of taxpayer money while maintaining security.

PEER’s findings also note that a number of MDOC’s policies and standard operating procedures (SOPs) are 10 years old. The report states that of the 392 policies MDOC has in place, 158 (43.3%) were established in August 2013. Of the agency’s 240 SOPs, 113 (47%) have an effective date before August 2013, leading PEER to state the lack of updates indicates annual reviews of policies and SOPs are not performed. PEER recommends the policies and SOPs be made available on the Internet to ensure consistent operations and increase transparency.

MDOC responded to that finding first by reiterating the footnote on page 11 of the report that states a date in which a policy was put in place does not “represent a total lack of examination from MDOC, but does represent the year of origin.”

The agency goes on to state that “MDOC updates their policies and procedures to reflect revisions to the American Correctional Association standards when experience necessitates a change, which does not equate to an update of all policies. The age of a policy is not indicative of an outdated policy or procedure.”

The department said it has a process in place to review policies and procedures. 

Inaccurate inmate population planning was also noted in the PEER report. MDOC’s 10-year-old prediction model has not produced accurate inmate populations. As such, PEER suggested updating it.

As PEER reports, the model was based on “statistical prediction models and assumptions as laid out by national best practices and scholastic recommendations.” According to population numbers listed in the report, the model’s projections were more than the actual inmate population by 18 percent for fiscal year 2021. The most recent population reviewed was from July 2023 – it over-predicted the population by 6 percent.

PEER recommends MDOC develop a new population projection model, suggesting the new model be based on a proven model utilized by the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

The response issued by MDOC in the report indicates the current population prediction policy will be reviewed to determine if it needs to be revised or eliminated. That review will include consideration of Arkansas Department of Correction’s model and how it may be applicable to MDOC’s yearly funding requests.

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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