The head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah makes no apologies for her criticism of how the state Department of Corrections is being run, even though at least one lawmaker thinks she should say she's sorry.
ACLU Director Michele Parish-Pixler said Tuesday the findings of a just-released performance audit by the legislative auditor general's office justify her concerns about the department.She dismissed a suggestion by newly selected House Speaker Craig Moody, R-Sandy, that she and other critics should apologize to Corrections Department Director Gary DeLand for complaints that led to the audit.
"I think the audit points out serious deficiencies and serious problems with the Department of Corrections," she said, citing findings of nepotism and a lack of educational and other programs for inmates.
"A year ago, they were saying there was no substance to any of these problems and any question of any of their policies and procedures was based on personalities and personal attacks," Parish-Pixler said.
The Utah Department of Corrections is "a secure prison system that protects the public, prison staff and inmates," according to the performance audit ordered by lawmakers last year in response to allegations of mismanagement.
That was the finding released late Monday to the Legislature's audit subcommittee by Legislative Auditor General Wayne Welsh. But the 96-page report also included a number of areas that could be improved.
Some of the problems brought up last year are the subject of ACLU lawsuits against the state, which take issue with inmate safety and overcrowding as well as whether they have religious freedom and adequate health care.
Legislative auditors avoided the issues that are the subject of the lawsuits, focusing instead on personnel policies, the availability of inmate programs and officer training.
The audit stated that education, employment and treatment programs have not increased as rapidly as the inmate population, leaving about half of the prisoners idle.
Although Moody and the other members of the Legislature's audit subcommittee praised DeLand after listening to the audit Monday night, lawmakers hearing the same report Tuesday weren't quite so impressed.
Members of the interim appropriations and judiciary committees both raised a number of questions about the audit findings, especially about the hiring of relatives and the need for more inmate programs.
Auditors found that one-fifth of the prison system staff is related to each other and that, although state nepotism laws apparently have not been violated, the hiring practices affect employee morale.