The Winchendon Courier
Serving the community since 1878 ~ A By Light Unseen Media publication
Week of June 17 to June 24, 2021

Audit Finds No Deficiencies at Middlesex County District Attorney's Office, Offers Steps to Improve Case Management and Data Tracking

BOSTON (June 17, 2021) - Today, State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump's Office released an audit of the Adult Diversion (YADP) and Victim Witness Assistance (VWAP) Programs in the Middlesex County District Attorney's office (MDAO). It found no deficiencies in its administration of these programs, but the audit did note that its current case management system, known as the District Attorney Management Information Office Network (DAMION), is not well-suited to track and report on many aspects of the criminal justice system. This is a statewide matter, common to all district attorney's offices, because the system, which is operated by the Massachusetts District Attorney's Association (MDAA), is antiquated and does not allow for meaningful data collection and analysis. The audit examined the period of July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2020.

"The Middlesex County District Attorney's Office has done a noteworthy job administering the juvenile diversion and victim witness assistance programs, but it's clear, upgrades must be made to case management and information tracking," Bump said of the audit. "As we continue to reform our criminal justice system, district attorneys must use all the tools at their disposal to enhance data collection. This effort will be critical to improving outcomes."

The 2018 criminal justice reform law called for additional collecting of data from criminal justice agencies that have contact with juvenile offenders, including district attorneys. The law established the Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Board (JJPAD), which is charged with collecting data that includes age, gender, racial or ethnic category, and type of crime. JJPAD uses this data to provide recommendations to improve outcomes of young people involved in the criminal justice system.

Last week, Bump spoke at Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan's inaugural virtual Data Summit where she and the DA discussed the importance of using data to improve outcomes within our criminal justice system.

MDAO is one of 11 district attorneys' offices in the Commonwealth. Its jurisdiction covers Middlesex County Superior Courts (Woburn and Lowell), District Courts (Ayer, Cambridge, Concord, Framingham, Lowell, Malden, Marlborough, Natick, Newton, Somerville, Waltham, and Woburn), and Juvenile Courts (Cambridge, Framingham, Lowell, and Waltham). For fiscal years 2019 and 2020, MDAO received appropriations totaling $17,173,489 and $18,893,167, respectively.

The full audit report is available here.

Disabled Persons Protection Commission is Not Effectively Administering Investigations of Alleged Abuse, Audit Shows

Commission has not effectively addressed recommendations from previous audit

BOSTON (June 16, 2021) - In an audit released today, the Office of State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump (OSA) showed the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) has been consistently missing required state deadlines for abuse investigations and did not have a system for identifying persons with repeated allegations of reported abuse. DPPC is responsible for the investigation and remediation of abuse of people with disabilities in the Commonwealth.

The audit, which examined July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2019, found DPPC has be unable to complete its initial responses to investigations (IRs) or investigation reports within the regulatory timeframes. IRs are used by DPPC investigators to assess initial risk for harm and abuse, and 19C reports make conclusions on whether abuse actually occurred. The audit notes 63% of the IRs reviewed were completed after the 10 days allowed by regulation; on average, they were completed in 19 days. Similarly, 85% of the investigation reports reviewed were not completed within the 30 day timeframe; on average they were completed within 70 days. Delays such as these can put victims who are disabled at risk of further abuse.

Auditors also determined the Commission did not always document individuals who had been identified as alleged abusers. There were seven individuals during the audit who each had three or more reports of suspected abuse, but whose case files did not include this information. As a result, the audit notes abuse investigations might not be as thorough or effective and could lack critical information on past abusers. Today's audit followed up on a 2015 report from the OSA that found similar issues related to abuse investigation timeframes not being met and incomplete documentation for alleged abusers.

"It is unacceptable to have breaks in the system that is designed to protect individuals with a disability from abuse. The Commonwealth has established these tight timeframes in order to prevent further abuse and our audit makes clear DPPC must do a better job in meeting them," Bump said. "The Commission must continue to work with its referral agencies at the state level to curb these delays and to ensure individuals with disabilities are living in the safest circumstances possible."

The audit calls on DPPC to work with its partner state agencies, including the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), the Department of Mental Health (DMH), and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC), to put processes in place so that investigations can be completed within mandated timeframes. In its response, DPPC noted that it was making upgrades to its database to better monitor critical case deadlines.

Additionally, the audit examined DPPC's oversight of protective service plans (PSP) which are used to prevent future incidents of harm after an individual has been abused. Of the PSPs reviewed, 68 percent were not confirmed to be received by DPPC from providers within 30 days of the completion of abuse investigations. This leaves those individuals who had been abused more vulnerable to future harm. Further, DPPC did not ensure that alleged abusers were always advised of their rights. This issue was identified in OSA's previous examination of the agency. Today's audit calls on DPPC to implement controls to ensure that alleged abusers are made aware of their rights before being interviewed for abuse investigations.

DPPC, established in 1987, is an independent state agency that performs its own investigations and oversees and directs investigations conducted on its behalf by DDS, DMH, and MRC. DPPC has three Governor-appointed commissioners that report to the Governor and the Legislature. The Commission received 11,900 and 13,102 abuse reports in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, respectively. In fiscal year 2019, it received $4.92 million in state appropriations and had approximately 50 full-time employees.

The full audit report is available here.