November 17, 2014

Audit On Prison Issue Released, Recommendations Made

11-17-2014 Nebraska:

An audit of the Department of Correctional Services, released Monday by the Legislative Performance Audit Committee, found issues of concern with the reliability of DCS data regarding inmates, as well as the department's use of segregation. Additionally, the audit report recommended that the Legislature consider amending relevant commitment and corrections acts to ensure the evaluation procedures and definitions for potentially mentally ill and dangerous inmates and dangerous sex offenders are "clear and consistent."

Performance Audit Committee members, prompted largely by the 2013 DCS release of Nikko Jenkins, authorized an audit of the corrections department in January. Legislative concerns about DCS' handling of Jenkins ultimately resulted in the initiation of two other investigations, with both of which the Audit Office coordinated its research.

The audit scope included an examination of the department's disciplinary process and use of segregation; the adequacy of inmate programming- such as substance abuse treatment and mental health services- and the relationship between parole decisions and the availability of programming. The scope also called for a comparison of the commitment process under the Mental Health Commitment Act and the Sex Offender Commitment Act and of the processes the department uses to identify inmates who may be subject to civil commitments under the acts.

Sen. John Harms, chairman of the Performance Audit Committee said, "our Committee recommended that the Department of Correctional Services engage an independent outside entity to conduct an audit of its data system, in order to ensure that accurate and reliable electronic data- particularly in the areas of programming, mental health diagnoses, and length of time individual inmates spend in different types of segregation-is available for both internal and external use." The Committee suggested in the report that such an audit include technology issues and the process and management of data collection and quality control.

Regarding segregation, the report found that while the amount of time in segregation inmates received for individual sanctions fell within established limits, the actual, aggregate time some inmates served in consecutive periods of disciplinary segregation or consecutive periods of disciplinary segregation and administrative confinement was much more time than the limitations on single sanctions suggested.

Sen. Harms said, citing this finding as well as testimony received by the LR 424 committee, "we believe the department should evaluate its use of segregation to ensure it reflects current national standards and best practices in the field."

The report also found that while state law clearly identifies inmates who must be evaluated by the department prior to release to determine if they are dangerous sex offenders subject to civil commitment proceedings, state law provides no such guidance for the identification of inmates who may be mentally ill and dangerous and thus subject to commitment under the Mental Health Commitment Act. Thus, the identification by DCS staff of prisoners who should be evaluated as potentially mentally ill and dangerous requires a greater amount of professional judgment than that required for the determination of potentially dangerous sex offenders. The report also identified a major policy question regarding whether, under Nebraska law, a personality disorder is considered a mental illness.

Based on those findings and others, Sen. Harms said, "the Committee suggested that the Legislature consider whether existing differences in the two methods of commitment, as well as differences in definitions and notification processes, were intended or not. For any differences that are unintentional, we should consider bringing the acts into conformity with one another in order to achieve greater structure and consistency." ..Source.. Courtesy: Nebraska Legislature

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