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Audit released detailing DHS handling of release of sex offenders

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MADISON (WITI) -- A state audit released Thursday, August 22nd examines some key concerns with how the state is handling the placement of sex offenders into the community, discussing everything from safety to cost.

The Department of Health Services program for placing sex offenders back into the community has no written policies or procedures in place for finding those offenders housing once they're released -- and that means taxpayers have been overpaying for rent and transportation, according to a report released by the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau.

After the program nearly sent a sex offender to a home a few doors away from his victim in Racine, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca called for an audit.

Then, a FOX6 investigation uncovered the high cost of housing these sex offenders, with the state sometimes paying more than twice the market rate in rent.

"The biggest challenge when we're placing these individuals back in the community is the community," Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Kevin Moore said.

Moore says finding housing for sex offenders is a complicated case-by-case process.

"Every individual is different. Every community is going to be different, and so as we build those policies as even the Audit Bureau recommends, having the ability to respond based on the specific needs of the community that there's flexibility built in there, so we can meet the needs of both," Moore said.

When the audit was done in March, 33 people were on release as part of the program, at a cost of $2.8 million.

The audit noted that because the DHS doesn't have guidelines or make vendors compete to provide services, it is wasting money.

One example shows DHS pays almost $70 an hour to transport offenders around. The Department of Transportation, using the same transportation company, pays less than half for the same service.

Republican state Rep. Samantha Kerkman of Powers Lake says DHS must reduce its costs.

"The audit has pointed out that there is a need for accountability and oversight," Rep. Kerkman said.

The audit outlines several recommendations, including establishing written policies, and taking steps to reduce costs.

The Department of Health Services has released the following statement:

"The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has accepted, and is currently reviewing, the report by the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) concerning placements and expenditures involved in placing sex offenders on supervised release in the community.

DHS Deputy Secretary Kevin Moore said the Department is appreciative of the professionalism and thoroughness of the LAB Program Evaluation Staff as it conducted the audit and developed the report.

“The report illustrates the auditors understanding and appreciation of a very complex and difficult process, and we find the recommendations in the report to be both thoughtful and creative” Moore said.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved the audit in March, 2013 and DHS staff has worked closely fully with LAB staff during the process.

“Protecting our families and our children remains the top priority for the Department so we welcome recommendations that will protect Wisconsin taxpayers while ensuring the safety of state residents,” Moore said."

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