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Audit faults DHS for lack of housing policy

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The state Department of Health Services could save money by establishing a written policy to identify housing for sexually violent offenders in the supervised release program, a nonpartisan audit released Thursday said.

The Legislative Audit Bureau also recommended the department seek bids to find a less expensive way to transport and monitor offenders.

Under the supervised release program, courts can commit a sexually violent offender to the custody of DHS until the court determines the person is no longer violent. A person in the program for at least a year can petition the court to be placed on supervised release, which allows them to be placed in the community but under the custody and control of DHS.

The audit found that between 2009 and 2012, the average number of people in the program increase by nearly 22 percent. However, over that same period costs in the program increased 33 percent, from $2.1 million to $2.8 million.

On March 31, there were 33 people on supervised release in Wisconsin.

The department said it is challenging the find places for the people to live, in part because many landlords are unwilling to have those on supervised release live in their properties.

The audit recommended that DHS contact firms that can identify potential places for those in the program to live as a way to save money. The department should also establish written policies for identifying potential housing options, the audit said, in part to help control costs under the program.

The audit also found that hourly rates paid by DHS for monitoring and transportation services were more than double, and in some cases triple, what the Department of Corrections pays for similar services.

The audit recommended that DHS go out to bid to find a vendor to provide transportation services at a cheaper cost. The department has been under contract with the same transportation provider for 15 years.

Health Secretary Kitty Rhoades, in a written response to the audit, said finding housing for those in the program that is both responsive to court orders and protects the public is a “very complex and difficult process.”

But Rhoades said the audit’s recommendations, including developing a written housing policy, were helpful and would be followed.

Rhoades also said the department has repeatedly put out bids for transportation and monitoring services and will continue to do so.

Co-chairs of the Legislature’s Audit Committee said the report will help the program save money while still protecting the public.

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