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N.S. auditor general report rips corrections training, child support collection shortcomings

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WATCH: A report by the auditor general of Nova Scotia rips three of the province's departments, analyzing the province's grant programs, correctional facilities and child and spousal payments. As Jeremy Keefe reports, it's the correctional facilities lacking the most in employment training – May 29, 2018

Nova Scotia’s auditor general has released a damning report that harshly criticizes three of the province’s departments —  detailing that the province has not properly monitored $45 million in grants that it has awarded and that $60 million is still owed in child and spousal payments.

The report was broken into three parts, analyzing the province’s grant programs, correctional facilities and child and spousal payments.

The auditor general, Michael Pickup, is set to discuss his findings on Tuesday afternoon.

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Correctional facilities

One of the harshest criticisms in Tuesday’s report was that Nova Scotia’s correctional facilities have dramatic shortcomings in the areas of safety and security, documentation and staff training.

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According to the report, many policies that promote safety and security are not consistently followed — especially when it comes to prisoners in “close confinement” or solitary confinement.

Auditors found that nine of the 47 close confinement cases were not properly approved and five had no documentation on the reason for their confinement at all.

A litany of issues was also discovered during the audit, including that healthcare documentation was not required for medical confinement of prisoners, offenders in solitary confinement were not always properly monitored and correctional officers did not always complete their required rounds or searches of the facilities.

The issues extended to the training of correctional officers in the province’s jails.

Of the 20 records that were audited, only four officers hired between 2013 and 2017 actually completed all of their required training.

Some of the training methods that weren’t completed include

  • Understanding and responding to mental illness (15 of 20 staff members completed)
  • Recognition of emotionally disturbed persons (13 of 20 staff members completed)
  • Applied suicide interventional skills training (nine of 20 staff members completed)

“If a correctional officer is working in a facility, even on a part-time basis, all required training should be completed, given that the risks remain the same,” the report reads.

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Auditors also found that training for corrections officers was often expired: 16 of the 20 officers they audited had at least one course for which training had expired.

More than half of the people in provincial custody (57 per cent in 2016/2017) are on remand — or awaiting further court appearances — and have not been sentenced.

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Child and spousal payments

The auditor general’s report found that the administration of child and spousal payments, known as maintenance enforcement, has not been adequately monitored and enforced.

As a result, there is roughly $60 million owed to recipients of child and spousal payments — money which the report notes is “essential for some families’ financial stability.”

Auditors found that 21 of the 25 outstanding payments they audited did not have timely or “appropriate enforcement” and  that eight of the 10 inactive cases they examined were adequately monitored.

The audit notes that a decision in April 2012 by the then-NDP provincial government affected the efficiency of the program.

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“The was no comprehensive assessment of the risks associated with the relocation to New Waterford and how these would be mitigated,” reads the report.

The move, completed in June 2013, reportedly resulted in significant staff turnover and made it tougher for the department to collect payments.

“Government should ensure adequate planning is done to ensure service levels are maintained when consolidating offices or relocating services,” the report concludes.

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Grant programs

The auditor general examined grant programs across three departments; agriculture, communities, culture and heritage and natural resources, and found that most grants were were awarded and paid according to government regulations.

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However, auditors found that despite Nova Scotia awarding roughly $45 million in grants that the programs are not set up to “achieve specific, measurable results.”

Despite all programs having goals and objectives, the report indicates only one program of the 18 examined had specific measures of success — making it hard to ascertain whether the program was successful in its goal.

This goes against recommendations when creating a grant program, the report found.

“There should be a documented program framework which outlines what the program is trying to achieve,” the report reads.

Pickup cited two specific programs as examples of the issues that can occur when there is no method of evaluation in place.

  • The FarmNext program at the Department of Agriculture was created to support new farmers in purchasing of farm land. However, auditors found the department does not know how many commercial farms had actually been established under this program.
  • A fund at the department of communities, culture and heritage had the objective of increasing export sales and revenue growth through “innovation.” Despite exisitng for two years auditors couldn’t establish how those objectives would be measured.

“Departments need to better outline what these expenditures are meant to achieve. This will allow a meaningful comparison of results for money spent against expectations,” said Pickup in a press release.

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