February 01, 2016

Senate committee swiftly confirms Julie Jones as Department of Corrections secretary

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. 

Corrections agrees to temporary new contract with prison healthcare company, Centurion

A company that provides prison healthcare services in five other states, announced Monday that it has signed a contract with the Florida Department of Corrections to fill in the gap in coverage after Corizon Healthcare terminated its agreement with the state last fall.

Centurion of Florida, LLC, a joint venture between Centene Corporation and MHM Services, Inc., announced it has signed a formal agreement to begin in April to replace Corizon Healthcare as the medical provider in Florida's prisons beginning in the second quarter.

The company's lead lobbyist is former House Speaker Dean Cannon, and its parent company, Centene Health, is a primary provider of managed medicaid services in Florida -- doing business as Sunshine Health -- and one of the largest contributors to legislative political committees in the state. Centene gave $298,000 to legislative campaigns and political committees in 2015 alone.

Centurion currently currently has five has statewide contracts to provide correctional healthcare services, though none in a state as large as Florida. They are in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Tennessee and Vermont.

Corizon Health decided not to renew its $1.1 billion contract with the state in November after months of complaints about inadequate inmate healthcare and dozens of lawsuits.

A year ago, state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, ordered the Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones to renegotiate the Corizon contract after a series of reports in the Miami Herald and other news organizations showed suspicious inmate deaths were covered up or never reviewed, staffing was inadequate, and inmate grievances and complaints of harmful medical care were dismissed or ignored.

Centurion's press release said the company will serve 70,000 inmates in the new prison Regions 1, 2 and 3, for a contract that runs through January 2018, when the agency expects to complete negotiations for a longer-term health care provider. Wexford Health Sources will continue to operate in Region 4, which includes Miami-Dade and Broward, during that time.

Details of the contract, and what kinds of performance measures will be included, have not yet been released.

Jones said in a statement that the agency “looks forward to working collaboratively with Centurion of Florida and Corizon Health to ensure a seamless transition of health care services for our facilities.” She said the department is committed to providing “quality health care to those in our custody and improving health outcomes for Florida’s inmates.”

"This agreement with Centurion is a result of the state undertaking negotiation of a gap contract due to early termination by its prior vendor,'' Centene Corp. wrote in a press release. He said “the agreement also includes optional renewal periods if the formal procurement is not finalized in the anticipated timeframe.”

Steven H. Wheeler, CEO of Centurion, said the company is “pleased to be able to work with the Department to improve the quality of services and care levels provided to this population. We also recognize the importance of maintaining sound financial discipline on behalf of the State and its residents.”



January 30, 2016

Pathologist raises doubts about Miami-Dade prison autopsy that says Darren Rainey death was 'accidental'

Darren Raineyvia @JknipeBrown

In his 40 years overseeing inmate death cases in New York’s prisons, Dr. Michael Baden says he has rarely seen a case as outrageous as Darren Rainey’s.

Three and a half years after Rainey’s death — in what witnesses say was a scalding shower at Dade Correctional Institution — the autopsy has still not been publicly released, and the criminal case remains open. Details of the report were leaked to the Miami Herald last week that his death has been ruled an “accident,” a conclusion that stunned Rainey’s relatives, who still haven’t been able to see the autopsy report.

“Why are they still covering it up?’’ asked Andre Chapman, Rainey’s brother. “How did they come up with accidental?”

Baden, a nationally recognized forensic pathologist who served on New York State’s prison medical review board for four decades, said there is no reason that Rainey’s family should still be waiting for closure.

“It’s extraordinarily unusual for an autopsy to take this long — and if people are thinking ‘this is a cover-up,’ well, this is what happens when it takes this long.”

The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s autopsy report, completed last week but still under wraps, found that Rainey died from complications of schizophrenia, heart disease and “confinement’’ in a shower on June 23, 2012, sources told the Herald. Story here. 


January 29, 2016

Sending a message? House and Senate budget plans reject Gov. Scott's request for additional prison staff

Julie JonesDespite reports by three independent auditors that turnover and understaffing at Florida's prison system has created a security risk throughout the state, neither the House nor Senate budget proposals give the governor his request to hire 734 additional corrections officers.

Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones made the request for for $18.4 million in December, amending the governor's original proposal which actually asked for more money for staffing needs -- $28 million. Jones said 734 new officers were needed to allow the agency to transition from 12-hour shifts to 8-hour shifts after the audits concluded that the long hours contribute to staff fatigue, inmate-on-inmate violence, and "allegations of inmate abuse, mistreatment, and staff misconduct."

The governor's first draft of his budget, released in October, asked for $28 million to hire 272 additional staff and provide enough money to pay overtime to allow for critical posts to be sufficiently staffed during periods of both planned and unplanned staff absences. The audits showed that prison security is at serious risk because critical posts are frequently left unmanned or understaffed.

But rather than heed those requests, the initial budget proposal from the Senate authorizes 23,892 total positions at the department -- the same number authorized this budget year, but also sets aside $4.3 million in "salary incentive payments" for current employees. The House's proposed budget gave the agency 184 additional positions, for a total of 24,076 -- far short of what the agency was seeking. 

If the agency wants to hire more positions, both the House and Senate include identical language allowing Jones to ask the Legislative Budget Commission for money to hire more staff -- but only if the inmate population increases. There is no mention of dealing with existing staff shortages. 
Judging by the comments by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Senate leaders, this is clearly an opening position in the month-long dance to complete the state's $80 billion budget.
Gardiner has repeatedly mentioned the need for more spending on prisons in his list of spending needs that must be balanced against Gov. Rick Scott's call for $1 billion in tax cuts.
So it appears legislative leaders may be attempting to send the governor a message. Scott has used television commercials and a statewide bus tour to pressure legislators to adopt his $1 billion tax cut package and his call for $250 million for economic development projects. But the Senate budget does not include an additional cut on corporate taxes for manufacturing, his top priority, and while the House tax package will provide make the existing manufacturing tax cut permanent, it does not set aside the money for economic development as the governor requested.  
The House and Senate budget plans use identical language to impose some new requirements on the governor's troubled prison agency. They require FDC to report to complete a report by next year, demonstrating that the agency has eliminated overlapping positions. The two chambers are also ordering up a $500,000 study it calls a "resource allocation analytics project for the purpose of analyzing and mitigating inmate deaths and reducing recidivism rate."
Photo: FDC Secretary Julie Jones

January 19, 2016

Senate proposes series of reforms that reduce sentences for non-violent offenders

The Florida Senate is drafting an ambitious package of bills that will reform the state's sentencing laws to give judges more flexibility, provide more productive alternatives for low-level drug offenders, and ultimately reduce Florida's prison population.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee conducted a two-hour workshop Tuesday on its 10 proposals,  hearing from representatives of both public defenders and prosecutors.

The state has enacted 108 minimum mandatory sentencing laws over the last 30 years, ranging from five years in jail to life imprisonment. Each law reduces the flexibility a judge has and increases the power of prosecutors, who have the ability to determine what crime to charge a suspect with.

Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, the chairman of the committee, said that a series of reports and audits that focused on problems at the Department of Corrections also exposed the ineffectiveness of the state's sentencing laws.

"Some of the sentencing that we're doing is actually creating more harm than it is good,'' he told his committee.

Continue reading "Senate proposes series of reforms that reduce sentences for non-violent offenders " »

January 12, 2016

Facing security concerns, Scott now increases budget request for more prison staffing

Faced with declining morale and reports of increasingly unsafe conditions brought on by understaffing at Florida's prisons, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday increased his budget request and announced he will seek an additional $4.3 million to hire total of 734 officers at the troubled agency, nearly double what he had requested before the critical reports.

The decision comes after an independent audit commissioned by the Florida Legislature found that the state's prisons are significantly understaffed, faced with turnover rates of nearly 50 percent and some of the most dangerous prisons have a majority of corrections officers with less than two-years experience. Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones acknowledged to a Senate committee Monday that a near-riot occurred last week at a North Florida prison that was not appropriately staffed.

The governor had previously asked for money to hire 472 new corrections officers. But he has continued to maintain that there is no need to increase salaries at the agency, despite massive turnover. 

“Our recommendation to increase FDC’s budget by $82 million this year, and these additions in staffing, will help us continue to reduce recidivism in our state while increasing safety at all Florida correctional facilities,'' Scott said in a statement. He made no mention of the agency or his budget request when he delivered his annual assessment of how the state is doing, the State of the State speech, before the Florida Legislature on Tuesday morning
In his statement, the governor acknowledged that "the safety and security of our prisons is incredibly important" and the request for for additional officers "will make our institutions safer for inmates, agency staff and communities."

Last year, FDC underwent three separate reviews conducted by correctional facilities operations experts and details emerged that raised questions about the state's investment in the agency, as well as the way the department has managed its staff. To save money and reduce the size of the state workforce, a priority of Scott, the agency has had corrections officers work 12-hour shifts instead of eight-hour shifts.

Each of the audits recommended that agency return to eight-hour shifts, a change that will force the state to spend at least $4.3 million and hire 734 new officers.  

“Many of the critical issues facing our Department are a result of outcomes caused by our current 12-hour model. Poor staff retention, increasing overtime expenditures, introduction of contraband, and staffing shortages are all due in some part to the officer fatigue and burnout associated with 12-hour shifts,'' Jones said in the statement. She said that if the Legislature approves the added money, it will create "a more stable and positive environment for our employees and inmates.”

For rank and file staff, however, the decision will likely impose another financial hit on them. They have not seen a salary increase in 10 years and, for many officers, the change will also result in more commutes to the prisons, which are often located in rural areas.

"It is bad enough that we have not received a true raise in a decade,'' one officer wrote the Miami Herald, "but now we will lose the benefit of spending time with our family every other weekend for most of us."


January 11, 2016

Near-riot quelled in North Florida prison but agency faces more questions of understafffing

Florida prison officials acknowledged Monday that they had to fire warnings shots, shoot inmates with non-lethal pellets and put a North Florida prison on lockdown to prevent a riot last week.

The incident at Franklin Correctional Institution, which houses more than 1,300 male inmates near Carrabelle, lasted three days and was the most violent to occur at a prison since Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones took control over a year ago. It also comes as an independent audit commissioned by the Legislature has revealed that the agency is dangerously understaffed.

“Were we staffed to critical complement? Yes,” Jones told Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Greg Evers at a hearing Monday, referring to the loophole in the law that allows wardens to modify staffing levels to accommodate their needs. “Were we appropriately staffed? Sir, no.”

Staffing at the nation’s third-largest prison system is at near-crisis levels, according to a report done by CGL, an independent prison consulting firm in Sacramento. 

The $300,000 audit was added to the 2015-16 budget by Florida Legislature last year after reports by the Miami Herald and other news organizations detailed a rise in use-of-force incidents, inmate deaths and cover-ups of inmate abuse by agency staff.

“We saw some very serious deficiencies primarily as it relates to the staffing,” said Karl Becker, a consultant with CGL. “Those low staffing issues contribute to security issues and security concerns.”

More here.

January 08, 2016

Prison chief appoints new leadership team, reassigns and promotes 14 agency veterans

After a five month review, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones on Friday decided that she would not bring in any new blood to her leadership team and gave promotions or new assignments to 14 current prison officials at the troubled agency.

The announcement comes after Jones asked the 12 top officials in charge of prisons and probation to reapply for their jobs in August as part of a major realignment designed to centralize power at the agency and create a fourth region overseeing prisons.

As part of the exercise, Jones accepted 71 applications for the three existing regional director of institutions jobs and the open post at a newly added fourth region. She then narrowed the list to 17, including a handful of outsiders. On Friday, Jones announced she had decided to reassign several of them to similar jobs, give others promotions and leave others in place.

"These men and women have demonstrated courage, accountability, leadership, professionalism and a strong commitment to the future of this agency," Jones said in a memo to staff. "I am confident that this team will help to guide our department as we take action to restore our place as the nation’s leader in correctional policy and practice."

Samuel Culpepper, currently the regional director of institutions for Region 1, will become regional director for the new Region 2, based in Jacksonville. Eric Lane, currently the regional director of institutions for Region 2, will become regional director for the new Region 1, based in north central Florida. Brian Reidl, regional warden for Region 2, was promoted to regional director of institutions in Region 3. And Thomas Reid, warden at Suwannee Correctional Institution, will become director of institutions for Region 4. 

Among those rejected was James Dzurenda, deputy commissioner for the New York City Department of Correction and Salvador "Tony" Godinez, former head of the Illinois prison system who retired in March after a new governor was elected. Earlier this week, Randy Tifft, current director of institutions for Region 3, based in South Florida, announced his retirement. 

Many of those reappointed have been in charge of institutions during one of the most brutal periods in Florida prison history as the number of inmates who died of unnatural causes reached record numbers, use of force was at a five-year high. For the last two years, the Miami Herald has chronicled the stories of deadly abuse in Florida’s prisons, as well as staff cover-ups and intimidation tactics used to quiet complaints by inmates and prison officials.

Reid, for example, was warden at Charlotte Correctional Institution in April 2014 when inmate Matthew Walker was beaten to death by staff following a cell extraction. A state grand jury later said it could not pursue charges because officers discarded evidence and gave conflicting testimony.

In North Florida, Culpepper was regional director of Region 1 and Rodney Tomlinson, who has been reappointed assistant regional director, were charge when five corrections officers beat a handcuffed and shackled Jeremiah Tatum, 31, in August 2014. A captain, James Kirkland, and four officers, were charged and Kirkland later committed suicide. The department said regional leadership "worked collaboratively with law enforcement to bring action against the officers involved in this incident."

Agency spokesman McKinley Lewis said that while veterans were chosen, the reassignments are "shaking things up a little."

"Everybody got a fair shake,'' he said, noting that the review included every applicant's employment history, " what they've done, what they believe to be the right direction for the department, what their management style is. And the secretary  made a decision based on those interviews. She made a decision that was going to be what's best for the department."

In May, Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order directing the agency to increase accountability by tightening regulations relating to the use of force, protecting employees from retaliation when they report wrongdoing, and improving the tracking of chemical agents used to subdue disruptive inmates. 

Here is Jones' memo to staff: 

Continue reading "Prison chief appoints new leadership team, reassigns and promotes 14 agency veterans" »

January 06, 2016

Ahead of reassignments, head of prison agency's South Florida region, Randy Tifft, resigns

With the Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones expected to announce next week who she will keep and who gets reassigned at the troubled agency, the head of Region III, Randy Tifft, announced Wednesday that he is resigning from his post as head of the South Florida region.

"It has come time for me and my family to change the chapter in our life and for me to retire from the Department of Corrections,'' Tifft said in a letter to Jones and members of the agency. "Over the last 26 years I have been fortunate to work in every region in the state with 11 different assignments. This was challenging for my family while also being a blessing to meet and work with so many great people."

In August, Jones announced she was asking the regional directors and their deputies to reapply for their jobs as part of a major realignment designed to centralize power at the agency. In September, Jones said she was conducting interviews in September for 12 of the jobs, including the directors of the four regions.

The list of finalists included current regional chiefs Sam Culpepper, Eric Lane and Randy Tifft, as well as assistant regional directors Rodney Tomlinson and Larry Mayo, all of whom had been in positions of authority during one of the most brutal periods in Department of Corrections history.

During that time, according to records obtained by the Miami Herald, the number of inmates who died of unnatural causes reached record numbers, use of force was at a five-year high, and the agency was forced to fire and discipline officers involved with inmate abuse.

Legislators have been supportive of Jones, but have called for a "culture change" at the agency. Jones has refused to assign blame to the top officials and an agency press release said, in response to two years of reports in the Miami Herald chronicling inmate and abuse and neglect, that regional directors supervise more the 5,000 correctional officers in more than 15 correctional institutions and "work tirelessly to engage our staff, statewide, often responding to incidents which occur hundreds of miles away from their homes and offices at every hour of the day and night."

FDC also has defended the agency's leadership team, saying that in 2014-15, the agency had a decline in the use of force incidents and has adjusted its policies "to ensure the safety of those in our facilities and the accountability of our agency and staff."

Here is Tifft's full letter, and below that a partial list of adverse incidents involving inmates in Region III and FDC's response:

Continue reading "Ahead of reassignments, head of prison agency's South Florida region, Randy Tifft, resigns" »

December 21, 2015

As criminal justice reform gains traction across nation, Florida lags -- even in South

Prison photo 1As other states reformed their criminal justice systems in the last year to reduce  prison populations, update their sentencing laws and establish new programs for the re-entry of offenders, Florida remained on the sidelines according to a new report from the bi-partisan U.S. Justice Action Network.

“There’s been some question whether there is enough political will to move forward on criminal justice reforms [in Florida,]’’ said Marc Levin, policy director of the conservative advocacy group Right On Crime, a member of the network, during a conference call with reporters Monday.

With 2.3 million Americans behind bars at a cost  to taxpayers of $80 billion a year, the group advocates for changes to make the criminal justice system “smarter, fairer and more cost effective.” Its end-of-the-year report detailed sentencing reforms made not only at the federal level but in states.

 Legislatures in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania passed bills to improve r e-entry opportunities for felons, and reform their criminal forfeiture process in 2015. Alabama enacted a “justice reinvestment package” to reduce its prison crowding problems. The initiative puts a priority on dedicating prison space to violent offenders while expanding alternatives for non-violent and low-risk offenders.

Utah reduced sentences for low-level drug possession and the result has been “significant reductions in prison populations,” Levin said.

Continue reading "As criminal justice reform gains traction across nation, Florida lags -- even in South" »