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Audit shows the department of corrections misspent inmate welfare funds

A graphic from the June 2022 Legislative Audit Committee report on Inmate Welfare Funds spending. The graphic lists "Questionable Expenses" as "Items provided to indigent inmates. Equipment used for inmates to do legal research. Annual license renewal for GED study program."
https://leg.mt.gov/content/Committees/Administration/audit/2021-22/Meetings/June-2022/22P-03.pdf
A graphic from the June 2022 Legislative Audit Committee report on Inmate Welfare Funds spending.

An audit of the Montana Department of Corrections found the agency misspent at least $50,000 out of a fund dedicated to inmate welfare. The department plans to return the money.

The state Legislative Audit Division concluded there were several instances of inmate welfare funds going to inappropriate uses.

For example, the state department of corrections used welfare funds to help poorer inmates buy necessities, like soap and toothpaste. According to the audit division, the state is required to help pay for those things, and inmate welfare funds are designated for expenses outside of necessities — like recreational equipment or hobby supplies.

Inmates themselves generate most of the revenue that fills the welfare fund. Josh Butterfly, who was formerly incarcerated and now advocates for criminal justice reform, says the money needs to benefit inmates.

“There is a lot of stuff that needs to be addressed with the inmate welfare fund in regards to [it] being used for the families and not put the public as their responsibility because that’s what this fund was established for.”

The audit division wrote in its assessment that misuse of the Inmate Welfare Fund negatively impacts the well-being of those incarcerated.

Natalie Smitham, the chief financial officer for the department of corrections, said the amount in misused dollars will be returned to the welfare fund by the end next month.

Shaylee is Montana Public Radio's Capitol reporter. She previously worked for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and covered the 2019 legislative session for the University of Montana's Legislative News Service.