- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California’s corrections department is hiring additional employees to speed up its investigations of wrongdoing by prison guards and other staff, spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said Thursday.

The department also will increase its scrutiny of employees who are accused of being dishonest, she said.

The changes come as a state inspector general released a two-volume, 341-page report criticizing the department for often failing to meet interim deadlines for investigating and disciplining cases of employee wrongdoing, including smuggling of cellphones and drugs, and having sexual contact with inmates. The report covers incidents between July and December 2013.

Hoffman said the department is drafting a new policy requiring wardens to refer cases for investigation within 45 days, fixing what the inspector general called “a heretofore neglected policy gap.” She could not immediately say how many more employees will be hired to fill vacant positions in the department’s Office of Internal Affairs to help reduce backlogs and delays.

She and the inspector general said their disagreement on the department’s handling of employee dishonesty cases involves a small but significant proportion of all allegations against employees. The department agreed to have supervisors review dishonesty allegations if there is a dispute with the inspector general’s office over whether formal disciplinary charges should be filed.

“We take dishonesty very seriously,” Hoffman said. “We are going to elevate certain dishonesty cases to a higher level of review.”

She said that while the department has missed some interim deadlines in pursuing disciplinary cases, most of the investigations are completed in time and don’t affect the outcome.

Separately, the inspector general’s report criticized a new state policy that lets outsiders seek discipline against state employees through the State Personnel Board.

That process creates potential conflicts because the department first represents employees who face misconduct complaints, then administers the punishment if the complaints are upheld.

Hoffman said the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recently changed its policy and will now provide its employees with independent attorneys if they face outside complaints.

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