A state prison watchdog says the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been delaying employee investigations that lead to firings and other discipline, driving up the state’s costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

Prison employees have kept getting paid for months after they are accused of things like lying to investigators, abusing spouses, driving drunk or engaging in sexual misconduct with prisoners or coworkers, according to a report from the Office of the Inspector General.

The delays got worse in the first half of this year, costing the state about $312,000, according to the report. In an 18-month review of cases, the inspector general’s office found discipline delays cost over $850,000. The office reviews the cases every six months.

When prison wardens or other authorities identify wrongdoing by employees, they’re supposed to refer it to the Office of Internal Affairs within 45 days, according to the report. But prison officials increasingly are taking much longer than that — nearly 10 months, in one case — to make the referrals, according to the report.

In one case, a correctional officer allegedly video recorded himself and an office worker engaged in a sexual act and then shared the video with another officer without the office worker’s consent. That officer shared it with other officers. The case wasn’t reported to the Office of Internal Affairs for 192 days, according to the report.

Delays from the time the officer was accused of wrongdoing to when he signed a settlement agreement and resigned cost the state $55,074, according to the report.

In an email, corrections department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said the department disagrees with some of the inspector general’s report, “particularly as it relates the characterization of the causes of some delays.”

“Nevertheless, CDCR investigates all allegations of employee misconduct and has an employee investigation and disciplinary process that is fair, consistent and transparent,” Thornton said in the email.

From January through June of 2020, the department paid out more than $312,000 in salary and benefits to employees whose dismissal was delayed, according to the report. That was on top of more than $500,00 worth of similar delays in the cases from 2019.

Inspector General Roy Wesley said the department’s performance in handling the investigations had worsened, while acknowledging difficulties associated with the coronavirus, which has spread in prisons.

“Especially against this backdrop, we believe it remains critical that the department appropriately and timely address allegations of employee misconduct and criminal activities,” Wesley said in a letter to state officials accompanying the report.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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