State auditor: Prison company must pay $2M

Published 5:52 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2022

By  Joseph Neff and Alysia Santo

The Marshall Project and Mississippi Today

Mississippi’s state auditor on Monday demanded a private prison operator pay nearly $2 million after the company improperly billed the state for thousands of prison guard shifts that were never actually worked.

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State Auditor Shad White announced the demand — the result of an inquiry his office launched in late 2020, following an investigation by The Marshall Project that revealed the company’s ghost workers practice.

White’s audit found that Management & Training Corporation, the country’s third-largest private prison company, did not notify or credit Mississippi’s Department of Corrections when staffing at a prison run by MTC fell below minimum requirements, as agreed to in their contract. The auditor is demanding about $1.4 million for unfilled shifts between 2017 and 2020, and just under $600,000 in interest and recovery costs. White called it one of the largest demands issued during his four years in office.

“We look forward to a swift recovery of these funds,” White said in a press release. MTC has 30 days to make payment, the auditor’s office said, or the case will be referred to the state’s attorney general.

MTC spokesman David Martinson declined to answer questions Monday. In a statement, he wrote the company has paid vacancy penalties under the terms of the contract, and that the auditor’s demands are inconsistent with the contract. He did not elaborate.

The Marshall Project investigation showed how MTC collected millions of dollars in Mississippi by routinely charging the corrections department for vacant security positions the company was required to fill. The practice illustrated a perverse financial incentive unique to private prisons: While fewer workers meant more danger for staff and incarcerated people, it created more profit for MTC.

The news investigation highlighted the experience of Correctional Officer Darrell Adams, who was nearly killed in 2019 when he was attacked by a prisoner during an overnight shift where Adams was doing the work of eight officers in four different buildings.

Adams worked at the Marshall County Correctional Facility, near the Tennessee border, where the state’s audit found that MTC billed for 12,000 unfilled mandatory shifts in the four-year

period. MTC operated two other Mississippi prisons during the same period, but the auditor’s demand letter only addressed the Marshall County prison.

The Marshall Project also exposed a ghost worker problem at the two other MTC prisons. Using monthly invoices and data on vacant positions, the news organization estimated that between 2013 and 2019, the state paid MTC about $7 million combined for no-show workers at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility, south of Natchez, and the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, near Meridian.

When asked Monday if payment would be sought from MTC for ghost workers at those other facilities, a spokesperson for the state auditor’s office wrote, “Our work is not over.”

The Marshall Project’s investigation in 2020 was published in partnership with The Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi Today and The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.