By Luke Britt
The Union Parish Detention Center’s $3 million-a-year inmate work release program has been under audit since September when the Department of Corrections discovered that the balances in a number of inmate accounts did not match the balances recorded in the detention center’s accounting software.
The DOC’s Chief Auditor, Jewell Freeman, confirmed on Wednesday that no inmate funds are missing, and said the discrepancies appear to be the result of bookkeeping errors.
The audit, made public for the first time during Tuesday’s Detention Center Commission meeting, is costing the Detention Center thousands of dollar a month because the facility is barred from placing new inmates with employers until the audit is complete. Since the audit began, the DC’s average monthly income from the program – officially known at the Transitional Work Program (TWP) – has dropped by nearly $30,000 a month.
According to the auditor, the audit should be complete by the end of the year.
At Tuesday’s meeting, DC Business Manager Lisa Sallie took responsibility for the debacle, saying she was not familiar with the accounting software used to manage the accounts when she and Warden Donnie Adams jointly took over management of the TWP in August 2022 following the resignation of TWP Director Ruby Stanley.
Minutes from the August 2022 Union Parish Police Jury meeting indicate that Sallie and Adams were both given pay raises at that time, and just last week – with the audit already underway – Sallie’s pay was increased a second time.
According to Sallie, the money inmates earned from their work release jobs was deposited into their bank accounts shortly after their paychecks arrived, but those deposits were not entered into the accounting software until, in some cases, weeks later. Then, when she attempted to update the accounting software, Sallie said she failed to complete all the steps necessary to properly record the deposits.
Once she became aware of the seriousness of the problem, Sallie said she contacted the software’s developer, Tiger Correctional Services, which provided her with the training she needed to correct the errors.
“I think Ms. Sallie has done a pretty good job considering she wasn’t trained to manage the TWP books and was willing to take on that responsibility, anyway,” Union Parish Police Jury President and Detention Center member Brenda Abercrombie said. “No money was ever missing, and now that she’s been properly trained, I don’t think we’ll have a problem going forward.”
The resulting disparities between inmate bank balances and the balances in the accounting software set off alarm bells at the DOC, which monitors the account activity of every TWP participant in the state. DOC notified the Detention Center on September 22 of its intention to audit the facility’s work release accounting practices.
The DOC established the TWP program in 2009 with the stated purposes of preparing inmates for re-entry to society. The program allows eligible inmates to take jobs with approved employers and earn wages, 60 percent of which are claimed by the facility in which they are held. The remaining 40 percent is deposited into bank accounts facilities maintain for the inmates.
Participation in the program is voluntary, and only non-violent inmates are eligible. Sex offenders are not allowed to participate.
While the TWP’s stated purpose is to help inmates prepare to re-enter society, the program also generates millions of dollars of revenue for the facilities where TWP inmates are held. Since 2018, the program has generated more than $20 million for the Union Parish Detention Center that, prior to TWP, had to be bailed out by the Union Parish Police Jury to the tune of more than $700,000 a year.
According to the letter notifying Detention Center Warden Donnie Adams of the impending audit, DOC’s Jewell requested not only access to the facility’s accounting software and TWP personnel records but also indicated that she would be contacting the payroll managers for participating employers, meaning that, at some point, those employers may be made aware of the problem.
The Gazette attempted to contact Adams and Sallie on Wednesday to obtain a more complete understanding of the issue and was told both employees were unavailable.