- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2015

Inmates at a halfway house in Brooklyn, New York, were allowed to come and go from the facility as they pleased, did not receive mandatory drug testing, and didn’t have required verification of employment, according to a new audit report from the Department of Justice.

In 2011, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) awarded a $29 million contract to a nonprofit group, Community First Services, to help inmates who are nearing release from incarceration transition back in to the community while staying at the Residential Reentry Center in Brooklyn.

But a recent audit of the center found that the nonprofit poorly managed the facility. Workers did not keep the required documentation on inmate re-entry plans, or verify inmate employment, nor did they administer mandatory drug testing to all inmates. Auditors also found that some inmates were allowed to leave the facility without signing in or out.

“It seems like in Brooklyn, staying locked up is on the honors system. I wonder if taxpayers get the same liberty when it comes to paying for it,” said Ryan Ellis, tax policy director at Americans for Tax Reform.

For failing to oversee management of a halfway house that cost taxpayers nearly $30 million while inmates ran wild, the Federal Bureau of Prisons wins this week’s Golden Hammer Award, a weekly distinction given by the Washington Times highlighting the most egregious examples of federal waste and mismanagement.

The BOP agreed with all five of the recommendations made by the inspector general in the report, and conducted a monitoring review of the contractor.

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“The contractor received a deficiency for accountability and was required to provide a corrective action plan,” the BOP wrote in it’s response.

Questions over management at the Brooklyn facility were first raised in a December 2012 article published by the New York Times, which auditors reviewed during their investigation.

The article alleged that inmates entered and left the Brooklyn House facility on work release programs to engage in illicit activities, that inmates often escaped from the facility, and that the inmates who remained in the house had little to keep them occupied and received little assistance from the staff. The report also alleges that inmates were allowed to use cellphones, drink alcohol out of water bottles and smoke synthetic pot.

In the latest report, auditors selected files for 49 inmates and found that 15 were missing mandatory individualized re-entry plans, 12 did not have employment verification, 5 inmates did not complete the four drug tests required each month and 4 inmates had no drug tests at all.

Jack Brown, President and CEO of Community First Services blasted the report in a response letter to the auditors, saying the inspector general had based it’s findings on inaccurate information and that the report was “unabashedly negative.”

“The OIG systematically eliminated recognition of even a single positive effort or accomplishment by CFS during its start-up and operation of Brooklyn House (in spite of multiple ratings of ‘satisfactory’ and ‘very good’ by the BOP audit teams),” Mr. Brown wrote.

He also blasted the inspector general for referencing the New York Times article, which he called “scurrilous” and “patently false” in the report.

CFS has not participated in other OIG audits, but doubts that there are other audit reports in which assertions from a discredited newspaper article are prominently repeated in lurid detail, and then summarized twice for emphasis — especially when that article was published outside the original period of time covered by the audit,” Mr. Brown wrote, adding that the inspector general’s office itself had written in a previous draft that the article’s allegations were “groundless.”

Leslie Paige, vice president for policy and communications at the non-partisan Citizens Against Government Waste, said that the fact that a major news organization was uncovering issues within the facility and not the agency itself, suggest that the problems could be much bigger than they appear.

“If it’s happening in one area where the New York Times is able to find out about it, chances are you’ve got bigger problems than that, you may have to look at this and ask yourself whether you have a systemic problem,” Ms. Paige said.

She added that the report simply reiterates the federal a federal culture that pushes blank checks at contractors without any concern for oversight.

“Sometimes there are real, really important activities that these contractors are supposed to be doing and if we don’t know that they are delivering their promise, that’s an improper payment and the federal government is riddled with improper payments,” Ms. Paige said. “In this case it doesn’t look like they are delivering on what they said they are going to deliver. It’s rampant throughout the federal government. Some agencies have more important stuff to monitor than others, and I would say that running a halfway house is pretty high on the list of activities that should be monitored and evaluated.”

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