In an interview with National Public Radio that aired Thursday, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones continued to push back against dissenters in her agency, portraying them as a "group of disgruntled employees that do not have the best interests of the department at heart."
Jones also dismissed reports by the Miami Herald and other news organization that have drawn attention to the spike in suspicious inmate deaths and the sharp increase in use of force incidents.
"I would submit to you, if you look at the raw numbers, it tells you, 'Oh my gosh, we have a problem,' " she told NPR. "If you drill in, the actual stats don't portray it's a crisis."
Jones told NPR the "vast majority" of the 346 deaths in 2014 were from natural causes, something that should be expected in an aging inmate population. Of the 15 deaths determined to be homicides, she said, corrections officers were involved in only three of them.
Jones has accelerated her criticism of some DOC staff as legislators have conducted surprise inspections of prisons and the Florida Senate has advanced a bill to create an independent oversight commission with the power to investigate allegations at the troubled agency.
At least seven members of the DOC inspector general's staff have lodged allegations that high-ranking officials at the agency, particularly Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, have systematically attempted to cover-up their findings of corruption and avoided attempts to seek prosecution for criminal allegations.
"We are at the point where we can no longer police ourselves,'' said John Ulm, a veteran member of the inspector general's office at the Senate Criminal Justice Committee last week. "The organized crime, the murders, the assaults, the victimization that goes on there every day is horrendous.”