County disputes findings in federal audit
Review shows ex-con reentry program in disarray
by Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Feb 18, 2018 | 1227 views | 0 0 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
NEGATIVE REPORTS – A negative report about the county’s reentry program added to problems associated with Hudson County Correctional Facility. County officials are scrambling to find answers.
NEGATIVE REPORTS – A negative report about the county’s reentry program added to problems associated with Hudson County Correctional Facility. County officials are scrambling to find answers.
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The U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General says the county’s rehabilitation program for ex-convicts is a mess. Hudson County officials however, dispute the findings of 38-page report, saying the federal inspectors went to the wrong offices and gathered incomplete information

Cheryl G. Fuller, the county’s finance director, said inspectors came unannounced on Jan. 25 and sought records from the office of Family Services rather than from the finance department, and so came up with a skewed view of the rehabilitation program.

Fuller responded to questioning by the Board of Freeholders about the federal audit at the board’s Feb. 6 caucus meeting, and what the report signified.

Federal officials conducted the audit in relationship to a $2.7 million federal grant that was awarded to the reentry program. The federal inspection said that the program allegedly misspent funds on items unrelated to the allowable costs, and had difficulty in tracking progress of some of those who participated in the program.

Part of the criteria for the grant was that the county keep track of participants for 36 months after leaving the program.

The audit said the program did not have required information on the participants and in one instance, lost records when an employee left the program.

Fuller said the report was based on inadequate information from Family Services, which kept some records on their own financial program for in house use when the complete data was available at the finance office.

The inspectors gathered information on invoices and purchase orders from Family Services, when the inspectors should have requested these from her office.

“Records of all transactions, all purchase orders and all vendors are kept in the finance office,” Fuller said. “Family Services used a Quick Books system.”

Fuller said her office was unaware of the inspectors until very late in the process.

“By that time they had already reached their conclusion. We disagree with the results on their audit.”

Tracking former clients is an issue

Frank Meza, coordinator at Hudson County Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, which oversees the program that has been in operations since 2009, admitted that tracking former participants for 36 months was an “ambitious goal,” but that some people fell out of the system even though his department tried to reach them, possibly even sending people to knock on the door of last known residences.

“Some of the records they (inspectors) wanted are not available in our system,” Meza said, noting that people sometimes fall out of the system because they leave a job, suffer some medical condition and are admitted to a hospital or are even rearrested. Many of these records are in the possession of the state and not available to the county. He said auditors in 2014 had acknowledged this difficulty.

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“Records of all transactions, all purchase orders and all vendors are kept in the finance office.” – Cheryl G. Fuller

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Feds won’t likely ask for refund

County Administrator Abe Antun said the dispute will be handled through the U.S. Justice Department.

“The Inspector General only gathers information,” Antun said. “If there is going to be any action, it will come from the U.S. Justice Department itself. Once the Justice Department reviews the information this will be taken care of.”

Fuller, whose office has already assembled the information required, believes the matter will be resolved through a correction action plan.

Freeholder Bill O’Dea said federal authorities appear to be concerned with the $3.5 million the county had to provide as a match in order to obtain the federal grant.

“This does not seem to involve misuse of any federal money,” O’Dea said.

Bookkeeping issues such as applying salaries of county employees to more than one grant are not allowed, and may be part of the concern by the federal auditors.

Antun said he does not believe federal authorities will ask the county to return any of the grant money.

Correction facility already under fire

The federal audit comes at a time when the Hudson County Correctional Facility is reeling from the deaths of six inmates over the last year and half, three of them within the last five weeks.

A report issued by federal Homeland Security in December cited the facility for inadequate handling of medical and food issues in regard to inmates.

Freeholders are currently reviewing a report about safety and other conditions at the jail in regard to the deaths, the details of which are expected to be released shortly.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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