State audit: Nevada inmates overpay for medical, store items

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A state audit faulted Nevada's prison system for overcharging inmates for supplies and medical co-pays, racking up overtime costs in the director's office during the coronavirus pandemic, and lax oversight in assigning state-owned vehicles to staff.

The routine audit by the governor's finance office also found the Nevada Department of Corrections assigned weapons purchases to the wrong cost categories, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

It recommended changes by September that it said could save more than $14 million annually, almost all of it by reducing overcharges to prisoners.

In a response included with the audit's public release on Feb. 22, the department accepted recommendations calling for it to write rules on pricing prisoner supplies, set reasonable co-pays, review its overtime costs and fix its weapons purchasing accounting.

The audit's findings and recommendations were reviewed at a meeting of the seven-member Executive Branch Audit Committee: Gov. Steve Sisolak, Lt. Gov. Lisa Cano Burkhead, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, Treasurer Zach Conine, Controller Catherine Byrne, Attorney General Aaron Ford and public member Trudy Dulong.

Corrections Director Charles Daniels defended the department at the meeting, citing the effect of the pandemic on staffing and operations including statewide travel to visit facilities, the Review-Journal reported.

``We rose to the occasion and I'm proud of my people,'' Daniels said. ``They did stellar work.''

``We did all we could to be out there face-to-face with our staff to ensure that we gave them the attention that they needed,'' Daniels said. ``For those that seem to imply that there may be something amiss, I challenge anyone to work the schedules we worked. We never took time off. The only time we were gone is when we had COVID ourselves.''

The 36-page audit found there is no system for determining cost markups, which during the last two years fueled an average 37% profit margin — about $14 million per year — for what is known as the Offenders Store Fund.

The department sets a 10% markup on religious items available for purchase in prison commissaries and 40% on food, drink, clothing and hygiene items.

Auditors wrote that inmates with limited funds have to rely on rations allotted to them by the department to meet personal needs because they can't afford to buy items.

The audit tallied $10 million in debts owed by released prisoners for charges such as court fees and medical costs, and recommended setting ``a reasonable medical co-pay'' for inmates.

The $8 co-pay the department now charges is more than twice the national average of $3.47, auditors found.

The department proposed dropping the copay to $2.

It also promised to monitor costs of the use of vehicles, ``excessive'' overtime and standby pay for staff in the director's office. Those things totaled more than $77,000 annually.