California prison employees who objected to questionable purchases of everything from cars to guitars for inmate drug treatment programs were told to stay quiet and allow the money to be spent, five whistle-blowers testified yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. At a state senate hearing, employees said corrections administrators encouraged excess spending and worked to suppress information that called into question the effectiveness of treatment programs. The employees described a state Department of Corrections that had little regard for taxpayers. “I was taken to task on several occasions when I questioned expenditures,” said Debra Olson, an analyst who said she was told that if she wanted to advance in the department, “I just needed to keep my mouth shut.”
Larry Cupler, an auditor in the department, said one program designed to treat 40 inmates was paid its full amount even though it only treated about a dozen, and administrators approved $1.9 million in expenses even though a contractor provided no receipts to prove what it spent the money on. Employees testified that end-of-fiscal-year shopping sprees were sanctioned by administrators concerned that money left over at the end of the year would lead to reduced budgets the following year. Contractors were allowed to buy musical instruments, custom furniture, and computers even as the state faced some of the worst budget deficits in history.