Original Article (Video Available)
People will always take advantage of a situation, and when you continue to hype the hysteria and lies about ex-sex offenders, this will continue to happen.
By Mark Leland
MADISON - There are more signs of wasted taxpayer money coming out of an audit of the state's supervised release program for sex offenders.
That audit was prompted by a FOX 11 On Special Assignment investigation, which highlighted inflated rent being paid by the state to house sex offenders on supervised release.
For example the Department of Health Services was found to be paying $2,500 a month rent for one home in Green Bay. That rate according to rental listings was nearly five times the going rate for its west side neighborhood.
Now a review of the Department of Health Services' program by the state's Legislative Audit Bureau is recommending several ways to save taxpayers money.
"The audit identifies a couple of alternatives that we are going to take very seriously in terms of the role that we take with landlords and how we build leases or construct leases. Perhaps there's a better way to negotiate leases, perhaps there's a better way for us to negotiate on a case-by-case basis," said Kevin Moore, deputy secretary of the Department of Health Services.
Moore says the department is just now reviewing the 44 page audit report.
The audit highlights not only high rental costs, but also inflated monitoring and transportation costs for sex offenders occupying the rental properties.
"This is absolutely taxpayer money being wasted," said State Senate President Mike Ellis of Neenah, who requested the audit based on FOX 11's On Special Assignment investigation.
"We are looking at it, you have been looking at it, and now that we've seen it...why wasn't this taken care of in house?" Ellis asked.
The state audit agreed with FOX 11's findings that rental costs to house sex offenders were elevated in many circumstances.
It also found the Department of Health Services paying dramatically higher rates for monitoring and transporting sex offenders on supervised release.
The audit shows DHS currently pays nearly $70 an hour for monitoring and transportation. Compare that to the roughly $31 an hour the department of corrections pays for transportation. And when unscheduled transportation is needed, DHS pays even more--$91 an hour.
Last year the state agency spent nearly $1.3 million for the monitoring and transportation of 28 sex offenders on supervised release.
"We view audits as tools for improvement, and so we think that these are opportunities for us to improve our processes and procedures," said Moore.
Among the recommendations by the Legislative Audit Bureau, DHS is asked to establish written policies to identify potential residences for sex offenders, keeping cost and location in mind.
DHS also needs to work to reduce housing costs, and take steps to reduce monitoring and transportation costs.
The audit recommends DHS report options to facilitate discharge from the program for sex offenders on supervised release that no longer need to be housed.
The audit found a dozen sex offenders in the program have been living in state paid rentals for more than 5 years.
"There's something wrong with the process because this should not be an eternal option because it's costing taxpayers too much money," said Ellis.
Ellis estimates laws may need to be changed to insure better oversight of the program. But based on the recommendations he immediately sees taxpayer money being saved.
"I think just to start with putting multiple offenders in a single dwelling they could save a million dollars right there," said Ellis about one possible cost-saving option.
The Department of Health Services is directed to implement the recommendations by the audit bureau, and then report back to the legislative committee by April of next year on the progress being made.
Ellis says he will demand answers sooner than that.
The Joint Legislative Audit Committee plans to hold a public hearing to review the audit findings in the coming weeks.
The original FOX 11 On Special Assignment report into the cost of housing those sex offenders can be viewed here.
"The audit is a major step in the right direction to work towards reducing the cost of this program and apply some new practices to maintain better efficiencies when providing services for individuals on supervised release," said State Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Allouez, co-chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.