Auditor: $620,000 could be saved by consolidating juvenile facilities

TRENTON – New Jersey could save about $620,000 annually by consolidating under-utilized juvenile correctional facilities, according to a state audit report released today.

The Office of the State Auditor recommended in the report that the Department of Law and Public Safety’s Juvenile Justice Commission – which spent $22.3 million in 2011 on its 215 residents – consolidate its 13 residential centers.

The report cited a 45 percent drop in residents living at juvenile centers over the past 12 years. The state’s 13 juvenile facilities have a combined building capacity to hold 373 juveniles, according to the audit.

” … Operation of the residential centers is not performed in the most cost-effective manner because each center is under-utilized,” reads the report. “The annual cost per resident at the centers ranges from $63,000 to $180,000, excluding fringe benefits and other indirect expenses.”

The audit found there was not a single facility that was operating at capacity.

Camden residential center, which costs $2.3 million annually and spends $115,000 per resident, was found to have a 10 resident excess capacity rate and the Costello residential center, which spends nearly $2 million a year and $119,000 annually per resident, has an average population of 16 juveniles but has a building capacity of 50 residents, according to the report.

State Auditor Stephen Eells also referred some of the report’s findings to the Department of Law and Public Safety’s Division of Criminal Justice for further investigation, citing cash shortages – ranging from $602 to more than $19,000 – at several of the facilities.

At Ocean residential facility, the center with the highest cash shortage, the audit found “questionable resident signatures” on approved group trip forms. A youth worker who requests and receives group trip cash advances is generally the person who obtains the signatures authorizing the withdrawals, according to the report.

Additionally, Eells recommended the agency refine how it manages and tracks recidivism rates.

“The first semi-annual recidivism report … disclosed that at one and three years following the 2007 release of juveniles from the commission’s custody, recidivism rates for new offenses resulting in adjudication/conviction were 53.0 percent and 75.1 percent, respectively,” reads the audit.

“However, the report did not categorize the recidivism rates by individual residential center,” it continues. “As a result, the commission’s management cannot determine the effectiveness of program services provided at the residential centers at an annual cost of $22.3 million.”

The agency responded to the report by indicating it would continue to evaluate available space at its centers and adjust accordingly, noting that “since 2008, the commission has consolidated or closed several underutilized or costly programs with cost savings of approximately $1.5 million.”

The agency also disputed the audit’s statements concerning the capacity rate and total population of the juvenile residential system, saying the report didn’t offer “a complete depiction of the commission’s sites and their population.”

“During 2011, the commission had an average daily population of 675 residents across all programs and serviced 2,842 residents during this same period,” the agency’s response reads. “The actual annual cost per juvenile served at the 13 sites ranged from a low of $13,464 to a high of $48,773.”

  Auditor: $620,000 could be saved by consolidating juvenile facilities