Montana State Prison Investigation Unveils “Disgusting” Staff E-mails

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – The state Corrections Department says an internal investigation into Montana State Prison e-mail found “disgusting” behavior by employees — and may lead to the discipline of as many as 47 staffers.

The prison system said Monday it has notified the FBI and the Montana attorney general after finding e-mails with sexually explicit and racial humor, sexual remarks and nudity. One e-mail contained a picture of a naked child.

“This activity is totally unacceptable for Department of Corrections employees, and we take it extremely seriously,” Corrections Director Mike Ferriter said in a release.

The prison launched a review of e-mail used by its staffers after an employee reported on Sept. 26 that he received an objectionable e-mail from a colleague.

The Department of Corrections announced the results of that monthlong investigation Monday, saying it was the second time it has had to deal with misuse of computers by its employees.

The agency said one employee already has resigned, and discipline of others could range from counseling to termination.

The investigation discovered that state e-mail had been used for “personal messages, chain letters, videos, jokes, and pictures or drawings.”

The department said it finished its investigation Friday. The attorney general and the legislative auditor were alerted to the potential theft of state property for the misuse of state computing time.

Prison spokesman Bob Anez said the FBI was alerted to the picture of the naked child. However, the FBI and the Powell County sheriff declined to get involved, the agency said.

Warden Mike Mahoney said it was unclear if the image of the male infant could be considered pornographic. He added that it seemed unlikely that criminal charges would result from any of the e-mails.

Mahoney said he was most disturbed to learn that many of the e-mails originated with professional staff at the prison and management.

“I was pretty disappointed in that part of it. These are folks that I have higher expectations of in that regard,” Mahoney said.

The warden said employees are allowed to use e-mail for limited, appropriate personal reasons, such as telling a spouse they have to work overtime and will be home late. In the wake of the investigation, the prison will re-evaluate its policies.

“I think we have to take a hard look at whether we allow any personal use of the system,” he said.

Mahoney called personal use of e-mail like they discovered a “betrayal of public trust.”

“I would like to apologize to the public on behalf of all staff for this incident,” the warden said. “This is not characteristic of the work that goes on at the Montana State Prison on a day-to-day basis.”

The prison system released minutes of an Oct. 2 staff meeting where the e-mails were discussed, and a memo recently sent to all staff.

During the meeting, Deputy Warden Ross Swanson called the e-mails “sickening” and the “most disgusting, disappointing thing” he had ever seen. He predicted the prison system would be “crucified” and become potential fodder for a “political fiasco” when the information was released to the public.

According to minutes of the Oct. 2 meeting, he said some supervisors were aware of the e-mails.

The prison system declined to specify which employees were involved, citing privacy rights. Mahoney said it could take a month to individually deal with each of the cases.

The governor’s office, advised Friday of the investigation, said it was shocked to learn of the results. Spokesman Adam Pimley said the office was helping to “move rapidly to resolve this situation.”

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