March 4, 2015
This week the Florida Legislative Session 2015 begins and one item that should be front and center is the “corrections” to the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). The department’s new secretary, Julie Jones, seemed to be prepared to “take the bull by the horns.’’ She initially appeared dedicated to cleaning up a truly dysfunctional department with a budget of more than 2 billion dollars.
It is a department in disarray from physical abuse (if not murder), substandard healthcare, unsafe vehicles, buildings falling down, employee unrest after years without raises, understaffing, and excessive overtime. These problems could lead to disaster when the primary objective is to house, rehabilitate and care for humans.
I can tell you from my experience the abuse reports are true. I was assaulted by a guard within fifteen minutes of being in custody of FDOC and deprived of blood pressure medication for over a week. I now consult with inmate’s families who describe much worse abuses. These are systemic problems, a result of understaffing, poor employee morale, dysfunctional management and – even more dangerous - a few rouge officers guilty of abusing those in their care without fear of reprisal or consequences.
I’d like to offer some solutions that could be implemented almost immediately:
Freeze the privatization of prison facilities and health care of inmates. This cannot be a for-profit endeavor, as our police forces and armed forces cannot.
Create more work camps and work release centers for all eligible inmates, as this is revenue generating and part of the reentry process.
Contract a nonprofit medical group to examine every inmate in FDOC custody to document and baseline the overall health of said inmates. The group’s report should go directly to Secretary Jones, with copies to the House and Senate oversight committee chairs.
Use inmate labor to repair the repairable facilities and vehicles. There are many talented inmates eager to use their trades. Use a facilities manager; answering to the secretary’s office, bypassing the normal red tape, to acquire the parts or supplies needed to complete the repairs.
Assess the transportation needs of all FDOC facilities, sell all unusable vehicles and equipment - there are hundreds.
Reinstate proper staffing levels starting with maximum security and work down, using retired military, federal, state and county correctional officers until such time as funding and proper training reestablishes accepted institutional levels. Create a hot line - similar to Crime Stoppers - to report abuse.
Move all long-term, maximum security, problem inmates to the ring of prisons around Starke and establish a 24/7 rapid response team for that area, reducing problems at lessor security level prisons.
Prosecute the rogue officers and those who cover up the incidents or lie to investigators, as you would and do in open society.
Establish a contraband K-9 search of all inmates, civilians, contractors, guards and administrative personal entering all FDOC prisons. Facilities already have the accommodations to house tracking dogs. This will greatly reduce contraband and decrease prison problems for all.
Establish trade schools at every prison offered to every eligible inmate with enough time to complete the program.
Offer a faith-based reentry program taught by outside volunteers to every inmate prior to release. This will dramatically reduce the readmission rate to prisons, saving the taxpayers money. Inmates need a reentry plan, and FDOC does not do this as well as groups that facilitate these programs.
These are just a few ideas to start improving FDOC.
Those inside FDOC who wish to help inmates reenter society are suppressed by low pay, bad morale, poor management, budget mismanagement and a lack of resources. The actions of rogue officers take a toll on the good officers and civilians who want to do the job right; it hurts morale to see what is tolerated.
Human beings are being abused and sometimes killed, and that must stop. Thank you to the reporters and legislators for their courage in taking up the unpopular story of inmate abuse and neglect.
Michael R. Holley is the author of “Pinstripe Suits to Prison Blues”
Write a comment
Rob Williams (Wednesday, 04 March 2015 18:29)
All good ideas. I would add that there needs to be accountability in the system. The senior managers at each site need to be held accountable for the actions of the staff and rewarded for positive results.
Michael R. Holley (Thursday, 05 March 2015 02:42)
Rob Williams I could not agree more. That is a major problem with government agency's. The best of the best and the worst of the worst are paid and treated the same. I also agree that when a warden or senior staff know of and do not act on an employee breaking the law they are as guilty as the person whom broke the law. That is the way it is handled and prosecuted outside of the prison system. Thank you for your comment.
Sally Howze (Saturday, 07 March 2015 20:44)
All good ideas. I especially thought that inmates doing repairs and maintenance is a great idea and would add teaching the trade while this maintenance is going on. Kind of like Vocational School. Give a man something he can turn to and possible helping him to have a direction when released
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