Two California state senators are proposing new powers for the independent watchdog agency over the state’s troubled prison system, reports the Los Angeles Times. The legislation would ensure that the Office of the Inspector General – gutted by funding cuts – would have a fixed budget tied to that of the state’s $6-billion-a-year correctional system.
The inspector general released the findings of 20 reports revealing wasteful spending and mismanagement within California prisons. One said the cost of drugs bought by prisons more than doubled – to $133 million – over three-year period when the inmate population declined and pharmaceutical prices rose 22 percent. That audit said the Department of Corrections did such a poor job of tracking prescriptions that prison pharmacies continued dispensing drugs to inmates who had been paroled eight months earlier. When such medications arrived and went unclaimed they were thrown out.
Created after a scandal involving brutality by guards, the Inspector General’s Office reached full staffing in 2000. It has performed 48 major audits and reviews and responded to more than 16,000 complaints from inmates, whistle-blowers, and others. At its peak, the office had a budget of $11 million and 116 employees. Over the last two years, the Legislature and Gov. Gray Davis cut its budget 76 percent, leaving it with 16 auditors. In January, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced plans to gut the office further. In response to criticism, Schwarzenegger reversed himself and favored strengthening the office.