The Florida Senate on Wednesday put money behind its pledge to reform the state’s troubled prison system, voting to spend $6.9 million on system changes and create an independent oversight commission that would have the power to investigate corruption and abuse.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously for the wide-ranging bill being pushed by Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, in the wake of reports of suspicious inmate deaths at the Department of Corrections, allegations of cover-ups, and claims by whistleblowers that the agency’s chief inspector general has sabotaged investigations and ignored inmate abuse.
The bill, SB 7020, would create a nine-member Florida Corrections Commission, appointed by the governor, and under the independent Justice Administrative Commission. The panel would have the power to investigate allegations of corruption, fraud, and inmate abuse, as well as review budget proposals and make policy recommendations.
The commission staff could conduct unannounced inspections of all prisons, including those operated by private prison contractors. It would do regular “security audits” focusing on the institutions with the most violent inmates. It would require specialized training for sexual abuse investigations. And it would expand gain time for inmates who complete education programs, saving the state about $1.2 million a year.
Meanwhile, the House subcommittee on Justice Appropriations has discussed the issue but has advanced no similar legislation.
The most controversial provision in the Senate bill would establish new penalties for DOC employees or employees of private prisons who “willfully or by culpable negligence” neglect an inmate or cause bodily harm. It would making injuring an inmate a felony, with a separate charge for injuring a disabled or elderly prisoner.