Skeptical that Gov. Rick Scott’s administration can conduct an independent review of abuse allegations at the Department of Corrections, a bipartisan group of state senators is conducting its own inquiry.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will grill Gov. Rick Scott’s newly appointed prisons secretary, Julie Jones, at a hearing on Tuesday, and other senators have independently sought answers after the Miami Herald began an investigation last year into questionable deaths of several inmates in Florida prisons.
Records show that the state’s prison system had its deadliest year in 2014 — inmate deaths climbed at least 13 percent — as Scott’s push to privatize prison medicine resulted in a spike in medically related deaths and the system’s culture allowed for prisoner abuse by guards to go unchallenged in many cases.
The U.S. Department of Justice is gathering evidence for a possible investigation into whether the Florida DOC violated the constitutional rights of inmates. Meanwhile, the state agency assigned to investigate the prison troubles, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, has been beset with its own problems.
The governor’s forced ouster of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, and the governor’s office meddling in removing a former investigator at DOC, have raised questions about FDLE’s ability to independently investigate allegations of inmate abuse and cover-ups in the prison system.
“A total investigation of DOC — a prosecutor’s involvement — may be needed to get to the bottom of what’s going on,’’ said Sen. Greg Evers, R-Crestview, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. He said he hopes to get candid answers from state officials but has realized there are “500 pieces to this puzzle.”
According to documents obtained by the Herald/Times, Gov. Scott’s office permitted the Department of Corrections to oust investigator David Folsom from his job in 2013 as Folsom was calling attention to the agency’s failure to report widespread abuse by guards. Read more here.