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.