After admitting they were rushing the issue, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously confirmed Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones to the position she was appointed to last year by Gov. Rick Scott.
Jones waited two hours in the audience before being confirmed by the committee that is in charge of overseeing her department.
Because legislators failed to confirm her appointment last year, if Jones is not confirmed this session, she will not be allowed to continue her job.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-West Palm Beach, briefly asked Jones why, after asking for the resignation of everyone on her leadership team she had reappointed many of the same group of officials who have had leadership roles through some of the most turbulent times at the department.
He noted that the head of Region 1 was going to Region 2 and a warden from Suwannee Correctional was going to director Region 4. "My concern about that is, it seems there are some systemic issues at the department that need to be fixed and it seems like we're just reappointing all the same directors with one exception,'' he said.
Jones replied that while they had "interviewed multiple people outside the agency and they either were not qualified or, when approached for a job, they declined the job because there was a better job offer elsewhere."
She said she "weighed a lot of information based on what I know about the individual, their work record and my expectation for my employees." She added that "having a solid basis of knowledge for the department was also important."
Retaining and recruiting quality employees is an issue that has been identified by three independent audits of the agency last year, including one ordered by the Legislature. The reports also found that staffing was so inadequate -- with most corrections officers with two or fewer years of experience -- that several prisons were dangerous.
One corrections officer, who identified herself as Officer Deanne Booker, arrived to speak but realized they had run out of time.
"I'm a corrections officer. I actually worked last night. I just came up because I knew the secretary was going to be here,'' Booker said, standing in the back of the committee room. "I really just wanted to address some of the problems that we have...I just want to say it's a a dangerous situation up there. It's a ticking time bomb."
After the meeting, Jones acknowledged that "there are very difficult circumstances throughout the enterprise,'' she said. "You've heard me say we need increased funding for infrastructure, increased funding for staffing and work so there are better working conditions so it's not a ticking time bomb."
She also told reporters that despite that fact that the House and Senate have failed to provide her with the 734 new positions she expects to hire more people to transition from 12-hour shifts to 8-hour shifts.
"I think the budgets the way they meld together with the individual pieces on both sides are exactly where it needs to be right now,'' she said, adding that because her amended budget request -- which was completed in December -- came "so late in the game" that the House failed to fund it.
"They have assured me that they are going to sit me down and make sure that what I need is in those budgets,'' Jones said.