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Prison chief imposes new policy to gag whistleblowers and investigators

Julie JonesTwo days after Florida legislators asked a series of probing questions of the top inspector at the Department of Corrections, the agency has banned inspectors from discussing any investigations, releasing any public records relating to agency probes, or even voluntarily bringing information to outsiders — including legislators.

The virtual gag order requires all employees of the Office of Inspector General to sign a confidentiality agreement and three other documents pledging they will not use the department database for unauthorized use, will not release information on open or closed cases to anyone, and will not compromise their independence while they are working in the department.

Any violation could result in “immediate termination.” The Office of Inspector General is charged with investigating criminal wrongdoing or policy violations in the state’s prison system.

Agency spokesman McKinley Lewis said the change was implemented Thursday by new DOC Secretary Julie Jones because she wanted to impose a standard used by most law enforcement agencies. He described the documents as “basic, normal forms that tell people to follow the law” and said it is part of Jones’ effort to “fix many things in the department.”

But the timing of the gag order raised questions and drew immediate criticism from lawmakers. This week, two Senate committees asked for data on agency investigations and grilled DOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley about the complaints of current and former inspectors who have been denied whistleblower status.

“This right here is a slap in my face,’’ said Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which has been looking into agency practices in the wake of suspicious inmate deaths, reports of medical neglect, contraband rings and budget issues. Read more here

Photo: Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones 

Here's the letter from the lawyer for the four investigators who were denied whistleblower status and copies of the new policies: Download 2015.02.05 LTR TO IGNACIO and VAIL re FREEDOM OF SPEECH CONF. AGMT