Politics & Government

Whistleblower audit clears Corrections official

A state official didn’t commit “gross mismanagement” by reporting that a program was improving the behavior of prison inmates, even though the report was at odds with what independent researchers found, according to a state whistleblower audit released Monday.

Department of Corrections Assistant Secretary Amy Seidlitz told auditors that she didn’t yet have final results from a Washington State University study of a behavior- modification program being tested at Coyote Ridge and Airway Heights corrections centers when she prepared a report for the Legislature on the program.

Instead, she compared inmates going through the program to inmates in neighboring cell blocks, finding 75 percent fewer violent infractions for the program’s subjects.

Another Corrections employee told auditors she had shared preliminary WSU data with Seidlitz at the time she was compiling the report for the Legislature. Those results were based on statistical comparisons.

“According to a University researcher involved with the program, the 75 percent reduction reported in February 2013 by the Department was not based on the numbers the University was seeing,” the audit says. “The researcher said that it is important to have people with statistical expertise conduct these projects.”

But the researcher also said early data wasn’t conclusive, and that policymakers should wait for a final report from WSU, which would end up taking two more years. The report last month found no long-term improvements in behavior, leaving the Corrections Department to try to revamp the program.

In the meantime, a lawsuit and whistleblower complaint accused the agency of wrongdoing for misrepresenting the results and using them to secure funding from the Legislature.

The lawsuit continues, but State Auditor Troy Kelley’s office didn’t substantiate the whistleblower’s complaint. For one thing, auditors couldn’t find any evidence that the Legislature provided money “based solely” on the information provided by Seidlitz, the audit says.

What’s more, auditors couldn’t find evidence that Seidlitz “grossly mismanaged her responsibilities when she provided information based on an internal comparison and not on data collected through the program’s pilots and control groups,” Jim Brownell, audit manager for the single audit and whistleblower team, said in a statement.