A report issued by State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick raises questions about the efficacy of a vocational enterprise program created to prepare offenders for success in the workplace upon release. The audit of the Missouri Vocational Enterprise (MVE) Program operated by the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) reveals a troubling picture of a program that is lacking in oversight and failing to prioritize job training for offenders who will return to the workforce the soonest.
“The purpose of this program is to help released prisoners integrate back into society by teaching them a marketable skill – benefiting them and their communities. Unfortunately, the department seems to have prioritized building a stable workforce of long-term offenders rather than supporting the program’s intended purpose of helping offenders gain the skills they need to find jobs when they leave prison,” said Auditor Fitzpatrick. “There is no doubt the MVE program can have significant benefits for our state, but the Department of Corrections needs to implement corrective measures to realign the administration of the program with its goal of training individuals who will have an opportunity to use their skills outside of the correctional system.”
The MVE program currently operates 22 facilities employing 892 offenders in 12 institutions housing 23,065 offenders. The audit found the hiring practices for the program have favored long-term offenders resulting in approximately 35 percent of participants having more than 10 expected years on their sentences, including 24 percent of participants with more than 20 expected years remaining and 18 percent of participants with 40 or more expected years remaining. Less than half (49 percent) of the offenders in the program are expected to be released in the next five years.
The audit also identifies an issue with the DOC locating program facilities primarily in institutions with longer remaining sentences and higher security levels. The report notes that all seven of the seven institutions with an average remaining sentence of eight years or more have at least one program facility. Included in that are four institutions with an average remaining sentence of greater than 30 years. In contrast, only five of the 12 facilities with an average remaining sentence of less than five years have an MVE facility. As a result, a significant number of offenders do not have access to program jobs and skills training.
Additionally, the audit notes that 21 of the 22 program facilities are at full capacity, which means no positions are currently available for short-term offenders in the majority of program facilities. Even more problematic, because the program has an overrepresentation of long-term offenders, fewer openings will become available in the near future.
Another significant finding in the audit highlights the failure of DOC officials to analyze industry demand projections to ensure the program provides training in areas that are in demand in the private sector. According to data from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC), 64 percent of offenders hired by the program are being trained in industries projected to have declining demand. Twenty-eight percent of enrollees are being trained in apparel manufacturing, which is the fastest declining industry in terms of individuals employed based on MERIC projections.
Other findings in the report include a lack of adequate planning and oversight of the program; a lack of guidance from the Advisory Board of Vocational Enterprises Program because key vacancies have not been filled; a failure to establish performance measures to track the effectiveness of the program, and a failure to report program performance to the legislature. The report also notes the DOC has not developed a strategic planning process to drive program decisions. Additionally, DOC officials need to improve financial practices and controls of program operations and improve procedures to track manufacturing costs and allocate indirect expenses.
The complete audit can be found here.