An audit on the state Department of Corrections found budget problems do not lie within the department, but with the Legislature.
After conducting a nearly six-month audit of DOC, for which the Legislature appropriated nearly $1 million, the report concluded better cost savings could derive from public policy changes. The authors of the report praised DOC for its ability to manage its funds given the increasing prison population and inadequate funding.
"We found no misuse of funds by the department," said Kenneth McGinnis with MGT America, the firm hired to conduct the audit.
What the auditors did find was state laws passed by the Legislature are hampering DOC's ability to reduce the prison population and save money. The report highlighted Oklahoma's law requiring convicted felons to serve 85 percent of their sentence.
"The problems in Oklahoma are not how many people you're sending to prison," McGinnis said. "The problem is the length of time they are in prison."
Currently, Oklahoma has approximately 25,000 prison inmates, and auditors expect that number to grow to 29,000 in eight years.
The audit was critical of how the state funds DOC and strongly recommended the department's appropriation requests.
During last session's budget negotiations, Legislative leaders believed DOC could do a better job with its money.
"We are going to examine DOC's population capacity management, staffing requirements, administrative controls and more so we can ensure they are doing everything possible to keep costs down, operate as efficiently as possible and act as responsible stewards of taxpayers' dollars," Rep. Rex Duncan, R-Sand Springs, said in a press release back in May.
However, the audit's concluded that "DOC is cost-efficient by virtually every objective measure of unit costs or staffing ratios."
Among the audit's recommendations is to eliminate or drastically reduce the governor's role in the pardon and parole process. It is estimated such a move could save the state $40 million.
When totaled, the audit's authors believe $18 million can be saved annually. However, the authors recommended more than $40 million in new spending to the help the department meet its needs. -Scott Cooper