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Audit Finds Nearly $1 Million In Unreconciled Arizona Inmate Trust Accounts

According to  a recent audit by the state, the Arizona Department of Corrections needs to do a better job balancing the financial accounts of inmates in state prisons. The Office of the Auditor General says the oversight failure could leave incarcerated people vulnerable to fraud and theft.

When someone goes to prison in Arizona, the Department of Corrections establishes a bank account called an inmate trust account to handle their finances.

Jeremy Weber, a performance audit manager with the Office of Auditor General, says the state requires the Department to compare their internal accounting records to inmate bank records. But Weber’s team found that ADC hasn’t taken this important step since November 2019.

"If a reconciliation isn’t occurring, that increases the risk that there could be a potential for missing moneys or incorrect individual account balances,” Weber said. "Those balances are what inmates can use to spend money while in prison and any unspent monies are provided to them upon their release."

The audit found 480 instances needing reconciliation totaling more than $990,000. "This includes unreconciled items with both positive and negative dollar values — ranging from approximately $(67,700) to $54,100 — and a total absolute dollar value of approximately $992,400.25," the audit states.

The Department agreed with the audit’s recommendations to try to resolve the accounts. According to the audit findings, the Department blamed the unresolved accounts on the transition to a new inmate management software system. "As of August 2020, the Department reported that it was in the process of cleaning up the inaccurately converted data in order to complete the outstanding and future monthly reconciliations," the audit found. 

But the audit states the Department is not reconciling the accounts in a timely fashion. The Department blamed this failure on "staff turnover and the loss of the staff position dedicated to performing the reconciliation."

The Department told the Auditor General it would research and attempt to resolve the accounts, but the audit found "the Department’s records retention policy— which requires the Department to retain ITA records for five years — could affect efforts to research and reconcile the older items if the Department followed its policy and no longer possesses the records."

The audit was conducted as part of a sunset review of the Department of Corrections, which is mandated by state law.

Jimmy Jenkins was a producer and senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2021.