November 18, 2015

Senate committee confirms Julie Jones who vows 'new focus' on rehabilitation in prisons

Julie Jones

Declaring that her agency has a new focus on rehabilitation over punishment, Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told a Senate committee Wednesday that she has made strides since she was appointed to the troubled agency last year and is working to reduce the prison population so the state can spend its money improving the system. 

“Our goal is to provide those under our care with the proper guidance and support to insure that when they leave our prisons they don’t come back,’’ Jones told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Civil and Criminal Justice at a hearing to confirm her appointment to the job.

The committee unanimously approved Jones confirmation and several members commended her for the work she has done since she was first appointed by Gov. Rick Scott

Jones is the fifth secretary to serve the agency under the governor in five years and took over in January amid allegations of suspicious inmate deaths, excessive use of force and cover-ups.

The agency also came under fire last year after former corrections Secretary Michael Crews said chronic underfunding by the governor and lawmakers forced them to freeze hiring and shift money for personnel into building repairs just to fix roofs. He also detailed efforts to reach out to the hotel industry so they could obtain used sheets for beds and scrambled to find working vans to transport inmates.

Jones has also been on the defensive after several current and former employees testified before a Senate committee in March that before she came on the job they had been ordered by the agency's inspector general to ignore evidence of crimes committed by corrupt officials because doing so would give the agency a "black eye." Jones defended her inspector general, Jeff Beasley, and several of those same employees have since faced internal investigations or complained they were given do-nothing jobs to keep them quiet.

The committee did not press Jones about any of those concerns but instead focused on her handling of the budget and staffing needs. Jones candidly detailed the needs of the agency -- more than 1,000 in additional staff, video cameras and IT support, salary increases and cost of living adjustments to stop the massive turnover – but she refrained from asking the senators who oversee her budget for the money to meet those needs.

“The key to our success is to stop asking for more money, to continue to create efficiencies,’’ Jones told the committee.

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October 05, 2015

Jones: ‘No performance issues’ with corrections’ I.G. who resigned

Julie jones


Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told a Senate committee Monday that the re-assignment of her agency’s inspector general was of his own choosing, not because of performance issues.

Jeffery Beasley announced last week that he is stepping down to head up the department’s intelligence division. Beasley’s job change comes as the corrections department has been plagued for more than a year by widespread criticism and allegations that Beasley and his office failed to investigate or may have even hindered investigations into suspicious deaths, beatings and medical neglect of inmates in the state prison system.

While giving an update to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday afternoon, Jones spoke about ways she's trying to improve the environment within the agency by focusing on values, such as supervisory accountability. Senators had one question about Beasley's job change -- specifically, how Jones' vision jibes with Beasley's re-assignment.

“I’m trying to understand how someone goes from being an I.G. that perhaps they didn’t perform well or something, and then they get integrated in the system,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, vice-chairwoman of the committee. “What kind of signal does that send?”

Jones said there were “no performance issues” with Beasley.

“He did four years’ worth of good duty and has elected to step away from his position and do something different,” she said.

Beasley, 41, similarly told the Miami Herald last week that he elected voluntarily to move into the new role.

“This is a phenomenal move and opportunity," Beasley told the Herald. “This is not the secretary running me out of the position. This is not the governor forcing me out of the office."

Beasley is expected to continue as inspector general for a few more weeks. The intelligence division, which Beasley will now oversee, is tasked with probing inmate-generated crime, including identity theft and drug and tobacco trafficking.

Jones told reporters she will have no role in recommending Beasley's successor.

"That is not my responsibility," she said, adding that Melinda Miguel -- Gov. Rick Scott’s appointed chief inspector general -- will advertise the position and put together an interview board, which will make recommendations to Miguel and Jones.

 Photo credit: The Florida Channel

October 01, 2015

Florida prisons' inspector general steps down for different corrections job

via @jknipebrown

Jeffery Beasley, inspector general of Florida’s Department of Corrections, said Thursday that he is stepping down to assume another role at the embattled agency.

His announcement comes after more than a year of widespread criticism and allegations by corrections officers, inspectors, sworn law enforcement officers and prisoners that he and others in his office failed to investigate, and in some cases, may have even thwarted, investigations into the suspicious deaths, beatings and medical neglect of inmates in Florida state prisons.

In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with the Miami Herald Thursday, Beasley talked about everything from the accomplishments of his four-year tenure to the high-profile inmate deaths of Darren Rainey and Randall Jordan-Aparo. He hinted that the local, state and federal inquiries into their deaths would reveal no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Beasley, 41, also stated that he is not being “run out on a rail," but rather, elected voluntarily to move into a new role as head of the inspector general’s intelligence division, which is tasked with probing inmate-generated crime, including identity theft and drug and tobacco trafficking.

“This is a phenomenal move and opportunity,’’ Beasley said of his new post. “This is not the secretary running me out of the position. This is not the governor forcing me out of the office."

More here.

September 30, 2015

Julie Jones conducts interviews for top prison jobs, includes incumbents

The former head of the State of Illinois’ Department of Corrections and 12 current Florida wardens and regional prison directors are among the list of candidates being interviewed by Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones in her search to fill the four top jobs to manage the state’s prison system.

In August, Jones asked the 12 top officials in charge of prisons and probation to reapply for their jobs as part of a major realignment designed to centralize power at the agency. As part of the exercise, she accepted 71 applications for the three existing regional director of institutions jobs and the open post at a newly added fourth region. She has now narrowed the list to 17.  Download Applicants Names for Regional Director of Institution Advertisement (1)

Among them are current regional chiefs Sam Culpepper, Eric Lane and Randy Tifft, as well as assistant regional directors Rodney Tomlinson and Larry Mayo. All of those officials have been at the helm during one of the most brutal periods in Department of Corrections history as 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.

Also applying for the regional director of institutions jobs are regional wardens Jennifer Folsom and Brian Riedl, Lake County Correctional Institution warden Erich Von Hummel, Suwannee Correctional Institution Warden Thomas Reid, Tomoka Correctional Institution Warden Terry Royal, Zephyrhills Correctional Institution Warden Jeffrey Trovillion; Charlotte Correctional Institution Warden John Willis, Central Florida Reception Center Warden Michael Morgan. Michael Pavicic, a Fort Myers resident who formerly worked as a corrections officer at the Cuyahoga County sheriff’s department in Ohio has also applied. 

Only four applicants are from outside Florida: 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, Milon Woolf, warden at the the Idaho Department of Corrections and Gary Albrecht, a contract officer with the U.S. military command in Afghanistan, overseeing corrections education and training.

Godinez was head of that Illinios’ sixth largest agency with 78,000 inmates and 11,000 employees. He came under fire last year after a Chicago Sun-Times investigation found that the agency permitted a former gang member with a lengthy criminal record to be hired as an advisor to the chief of parole. During Godinez’s four-year tenure, the agency struggled with overcrowding issues as then Gov. Pat Quinn sought to close prisons and halfway houses.

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September 26, 2015

Dead inmate's family sues state for inhumane treatment after beating death


A year ago this week, Latandra Ellington, a 36-year-old mother of four, filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Corrections, alleging that a corrections officer had threatened to kill her.

Less than 24 hours later, she was found dead in a confinement cell at Lowell Correctional Institution, the second-largest women’s prison in the nation, located in Ocala.

A lawsuit filed by Ellington’s family last week claims that Ellington, who had only seven months left on her 22-year prison term, had been beaten, subjected to inhumane treatment and did not receive proper medical care.

The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, Barbara Wolf, ruled last year that Ellington died as result of heart disease. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which investigated her death, found no evidence of foul play.

Ellington died on Oct. 1, 2014, 10 days after writing a letter to her family alleging that an officer — identified in her note as a Sgt. Q —repeatedly threatened to beat her with a radio. The FDLE probe suggested that Ellington had angered the officer, later identified as Patrick Quercioli, because she had caught him having sex with an inmate.

More here.

September 25, 2015

Union reacts to corrections audit: Staffing and pay must be addressed

DCIxx c epf


Responding to an independent audit that found Florida's prisons are so "chronically understaffed" that an emergency should be declared, a group of South Florida members of the union that represents state corrections officers called on Gov. Rick Scott and Florida lawmakers to take action.

FDOC Teamsters United said in a statement Friday that Florida's leaders have "the absolute responsibility to ensure our prisons are safely staffed for its officers, the inmates and the public," and the group says that can't happen if corrections officers aren't also paid adequately.

The audit - commissioned by the Florida Department of Corrections and conducted by the National Institute of Corrections - found that the lack of staff costs the state millions in overtime costs, encourages vacancies, falls below national standards and exposes Florida taxpayers to increased costs if a murder, riot or escape were to occur at any of the state prisons. More here.

While the DOC has hired 2,200 corrections officers in the past six months, the agency also lost 1,400, leaving a net gain of around 800, Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told legislative committees last week. Jones said the agency is often losing its officers to local law enforcement agencies.

The union group said the DOC needs to do more than just hire new officers, it needs to entice them to stay.

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September 23, 2015

Prison audit exposes 'dangerous' staffing levels that violate agency's own rules

Florida’s prisons are so “chronically understaffed” for even the most basic daily routines that an emergency should be declared to keep corrections officers and inmates safe, an independent audit commissioned by the Florida Department of Corrections has concluded.

The lack of staff costs the state millions in overtime costs, encourages vacancies, falls below national standards and exposes Florida taxpayers to increased costs if a murder, riot or escape were to occur at any of the state prisons, the report by the National Institute of Corrections concludes.

The solution “will require a significant commitment of attention and resources and the fortitude to make tough decisions,” the report notes.

The department’s response: We know.

“Since January, the secretary has been saying this over and over again,’’ said McKinley Lewis, spokesman for the agency, noting that Corrections Secretary Julie Jones asked for and received $17.5 million to hire 300 additional employees.

Jones told legislative committees last week that she had received the report and her budget includes a request for 273 more officers at a cost of $14 million, on top of the additional staff she received last year.

More here.

September 16, 2015

Staff attrition continues to hamper progress at prison agency

Florida prison chief Julie Jones told legislators Wednesday that to reshape the culture of her troubled agency she has hired more than 2,200 additional prison guards in the last year but has lost another 1,400 as staff turnover continues to undercut their efforts.

“We’re taking an aggressive approach,” Jones told the House Justice Appropriations subcommittee in one of two stops before legislative committees.

The Florida Department of Corrections has been on the defensive for the last year as budget reports showed that the agency shifted payroll money to pay for prison repairs in the face of years of inadequate funding from lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott. Scott appointed Jones in January to head the agency through a period of reports of inmate abuse and cover-ups.

After vowing to reform the culture, Jones persuaded lawmakers to fund new hires and lawmakers gave her spending authority to increase payroll and training.

But for all the effort at hiring and training, Jones told the committee, “we just as quickly lose them to local law enforcement agencies.” At Dade Correctional Institution in Miami, for example, 70 percent of the officers have less than two years experience, Jones said.

“We’re training, training, training and losing them,” she said. Jones said she has even started writing officials at county jails to urge them not lure away her staff.

More here.

Teamster's report here: Download FDOC United 2 


September 12, 2015

Florida prison's youngest inmates subjected to gang sexual assaults and staff indifference

via @jknipebrown

They ambushed Gesnerson Louisius in an isolated corner of A-Dormitory, in an unlocked concrete-block room at Lancaster Correctional Institution, one of four state prisons in Florida where crime wears a young face.

It was May 7, 2013, and Louisius, 19, a new inmate, was slammed in the back of his head with a bar of soap stuffed inside a sock. Six inmates pinned him down, and one grabbed him by his throat, as two others dragged him across the carpeted floor by his ankles, according to the department’s report on the attack.

The young prisoners, between the ages of 18 and 20, kept demanding that he pay them money to stop the beating, but Louisius refused. He tried in vain to wrestle his way out of the heap of inmates, who locked him in a choke-hold and began to kick and beat him with more socks stuffed with soap.

“That’s OK. I have something for you,’’ said one inmate, identified by Louisius in the Florida Department of Corrections report as Robert A. Walker, a 20-year-old convicted rapist.

“Get the broom,’’ Walker said, according to the prison report. What happened next was more cruel and unforgiving than the crime that sent Louisius to prison.

More here.

September 11, 2015

Audit of prison agency's use of force on inmates finds improvements but more needed

The Florida prison system is making “impressive” improvements but still needs more corrections officers, staff training and video cameras, according to a use-of-force audit of the Department of Corrections released Thursday.

The audit of the department, which saw a near doubling of use of force incidents over a recent five-year span, was conducted by the Association of State Corrections Officers at the request of the agency.

The report was commissioned in response to a series of news stories about questionable inmate deaths in the state prison system, as well as the documented spike in the use of force by prison guards, sometimes with deadly consequences. Last year, a record number of inmates died in state custody.

Legislators this year raised questions about how well the agency was implementing its use-of-force policies and questioned whether the agency was capable of “policing itself” in the wake of reports about cover-ups of inmate abuse and the silencing of whistle-blowers within the agency’s Office of Inspector General.

The audit found that DOC policies were not necessarily problematic — they generally conform to accepted practices.

Nor did it take issue with the culture of the prison system. It stated that the current leadership of the Department of Corrections, the third largest system in the nation, has communicated a policy of “zero tolerance” toward abuse of prisoners, as evidenced by a recent series of arrests and dismissals of DOC staff.

More here.

Here's the report.