Informant posing as Klan hit man leads to prison guard bust – WSVN-TV – 7NEWS Miami Ft. Lauderdale News, Weather, DecoPosted: April 5, 2015 in News and politics
This might come as a shock to Gov. Rick Scott, R-Clueless Hand Fluke, but this is the 21st century. This is — albeit a foreign concept to the g
But somewhere along the line, the governor has confused Florida’s prison system with something out of Papillon. Perhaps this is the inevitable result when an oblivious politician attempts to foist off governing on the cheap as “reform.”
You could make an argument that if Scott, R-Guffawshank Deception, wanted to cut corners and slash budgets in an attempt to reduce the state Commission on Ethics to a single parish confessional, what would be the harm? Who pays attention to scruples in Tallahassee anyway?
Last year marked the deadliest in history for Florida inmates, with 320 prisoners earning their release in a pine box. Florida has a prison population of more than 100,000 inmates spread across 56 correctional facilities.
On his watch, Scott, R-Dense Man Staring, has overseen a steady erosion of the Department of Corrections. Indeed, when Mike Crews became the governor’s third prison chief in 2012, he discovered the agency was operating on a budget of $500 million less than it was in 2007, when there were 9,000 fewer inmates in the system.
Throughout the DOC, overcrowding was reaching critical mass, and employee overtime was costing $2.9 million. And across the state, corrections facilities were struggling to keep up with deteriorating electrical, plumbing and, especially, security systems, which is sort of important in making sure the evildoers stay locked up.
Things had gotten so bad, corrections officers sometimes weren’t able to reliably conduct an inmate count. (Insert forehead slap here.) And the DOC fleet of vehicles had become so worn down, Crews begged other government entities to donate their used buses and trucks.
In short, an indifferent Scott, R-The Longest Canard, had allowed the state prison system to become the Mayberry jail.
Simply because someone is incarcerated doesn’t mean an inmate should have to worry that a prison term for car theft, or burglary, or anything else will be a death sentence. But as revelations over the mounting death count of prisoners became public, did Scott leap into leadership action promising to get to the bottom of the scandal, pledge to do more to ensure inmate and corrections staff safety, and call for a thorough investigation?
Not quite. Indeed, the governor, after interviewing Crews for a job, never met with the head of the state’s largest agency again. Instead, the supposed chief executive officer of the state reverted to predictable form to find fall guys to take the blame for his bumbling.
Crews, who resigned late last year, told the Miami Herald he was pressured by then-gubernatorial chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth to “take a bullet for the governor,” who was at the time in the middle of a tight race for re-election against Democrat Charlie Crist.
According to Crews, he refused demands from the governor’s office to fire corrections staffers who had nothing to do with the inmate deaths. Meanwhile, Crews found himself reading press releases coming from the governor’s propaganda ministry falsely quoting him that everything was under control at the Big House.
So a sitting responsibility-averse governor attempted to influence a state agency head to lie on his behalf for political purposes, conspire to destroy the careers and reputations of at least two civil servants by tainting them with false allegations, and issue intentionally inaccurate press releases that included fake quotes.
It was only in the wake of the publicity surrounding the deaths of 320 inmates that Scott, R-“What We Have Here Is … Failure To Communicate,” finally announced an increase of $51.5 million in the prison budget, including money to fill corrections officer vacancies, training and infrastructure repair. That ought to lift Florida’s prisons somewhere between the Turkish slammer in Midnight Express and the South American lockup from Kiss of the Spider Woman.
It shouldn’t take a rash of inmate deaths and a whistle-blowing former DOC chief to convince a governor that governance is largely about simply doing the right thing. But apparently, even that is too high a wall of common sense for Scott to scale.
vernor — reality.
Over the past 18 years, a little more than 200 prisoners have been released from Florida’s massive prison system for medical reasons. It’s a paltry number given the 100,000-plus inmates, and given that Florida’s prisoners are an aging group. As of June 2014, a fifth of the inmate population was defined as elderly — older than 50. More than 1,000 prisoners were older than 70, including two 92-year-old inmates, among the oldest in the U.S.
Last year, 18 inmates applied to the newly named Commission on Offender Review — the former Parole Commission; only eight were granted the conditional medical release. The reason is Florida has a very narrow definition of what qualifies an inmate for medical release. The inmate must be either “terminally ill” or “permanently incapacitated.” If they meet one of those definitions and the Offender Review Commission agrees, those prisoners can be released under supervision, including a provision that would send them back to prison if their condition improves.
In the 2015 session that begins Tuesday, lawmakers will consider broadening that definition for conditional medical release to include “elderly and infirm inmates,” defined as prisoners older than 70 who haven’t committed violent crimes and have a medical condition that “renders the inmate infirm or physically impaired to the extent that the inmate does not constitute a danger to himself or herself or others.”
It would bring Florida in line with other states and the federal government, which have set “geriatric” standards for the review of inmate sentences. The bills (SB 2070 and HB 785) would also let the families of inmates pay for independent medical exams to determine an infirmity, then submit reports to the Department of Corrections and the Offender Review Commis-sion. Reggie Garcia, a Tallahassee lawyer with 20 years of experience handling clemency and parole cases, said broadening the definition for conditional medical releases is a good idea. “There’s a humanitarian reason to do that and there is a cost savings reason to do that,” he said.
Garcia has a new book — “How to Leave Prison Early” — that delves into the medical releases as well as other clemency and early release issues in the Florida prison system.
“The reality is there are thousands of older inmates with chronic illnesses. While very serious, most of these illnesses evidently do not rise to the level of having a terminal illness or permanent incapacitation,” he wrote. Garcia and others authorities note that providing medical care for elderly prisoners is costly. The National Institute of Corrections estimates that some $70,000 a year on average is spent on elderly prisoners, nearly three times the cost for younger prisoners.
Seeking a medical release is among a variety of issues Garcia explores in his book meant for inmates and their families. He also outlines some 25 steps for clemency review, 17 steps for prisoners seeking parole (which was abolished in the 1990s) and seven steps for entering a work-release program.
Garcia said he wrote the book to demystify the complicated and complex early release procedures that involve the Department of Corrections, the Offender Review Commission and the governor and Cabinet, who sit as the state Clemency Board.
“Families with inmates … they simply do not understand the early release options. The process is intimidating. The terminology is confusing,” Garcia said. He said the book — available on Amazon — is especially meant for those who can’t “afford a lawyer.”
WINNER OF THE WEEK
Ray Sansom. The former House speaker won a ruling from a Leon County circuit judge that the state must pay his legal fees — which could amount to close to $1 million — in a case where the former House leader was accused of corrupt activities related to a $6 million appropriation for an airplane hangar in the state budget. The corruption case was dropped by state prosecutors.
LOSER OF THE WEEK
Financial disclosure advocates. A state appellate court threw out a lawsuit challenging a state law that allowed Gov. Rick Scott to use a blind trust to shield his personal assets rather than filing a detailed accounting of his finances. The suit contended the blind-trust law violated a 1976 constitutional amendment backed by Gov. Reubin Askew that required state officials to file full financial disclosures.
QUOTE OF WEEK
“I look forward to continuing to meet with more companies in Pennsylvania to highlight all of the great things we are doing in Florida,” Gov. Rick Scott said after his first “job poaching” trip to try to lure more out-of-state companies to Florida. Scott’s Pennsylvania trip yielded an announcement from Wawa Inc. that it would expand by another 50 stores in Florida over the next two years.
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Generally when a crisis occurs in a large organization, the CEO is expected to acknowledge and address the problem, keep stakeholders up to date on progress and be held accountable for the problems that occurred.
Why is it, then, that Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott has been AWOL on the crisis within our prison system?
Here are some of the problems: a record number of inmate deaths, suspicious deaths not reported as such, claims of widespread prisoner abuse, drugs and contraband, investigator reports ignored, investigators intimidated and silenced, potential inspector general retaliation and cover-ups, four Department of Corrections (DOC) secretaries in as many years, crumbling buildings, leaky roofs, dilapidated vehicles, dangerously low staffing levels, excessive overtime costs, and questionable contracts for privatized services such as medical care.
And yet when disturbing reports started surfacing — about a mentally ill prisoner who was scalded to death at Dade Correctional or a nonviolent offender seeking medical treatment who was punished and gassed to death instead — there was a shocking lack of concern from the governor. The silent indifference was so unsettling that former DOC chief Jim McDonough exclaimed, “Where is the outrage?”
To date, the governor has not directly acknowledged the problems, answered any questions, nor communicated a plan of action. Instead he let his third DOC secretary, Mike Crews, take the heat. Crews resigned amid the growing scandal.
Crews admitted that during the re-election campaign, the governor’s then-chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, told him that he needed to take a bullet for the governor.
Crews expressed frustration that the governor and his staff were more concerned with crafting news releases than with doing what needed to be done to keep the institutions safe and secure.
This behavior came from the very administration that touts accountability, transparency and business acumen.
The DOC is responsible for the well-being of all inmates under its supervision.
Its inmate population now stands at 102,000 and the budget more than $2 billion — more inmates, fewer staff and less funding than when Scott took office.
For years the DOC has been understaffed, underfunded and not properly maintained. Turnover is high, morale is low and persistent efforts to privatize prisons and prison functions have drained resources from DOC needs.
Even when Scott appointed Julie Jones as Crews’ replacement — the fourth to attempt to run the underfunded, understaffed, redheaded stepchild agency of the Scott administration — he failed to convey any outrage or plans to address the situation that had been festering in the public view for close to a year.
Jones made some promising remarks to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, for which I bestowed kudos and premature optimism for the department.
However, that was short-lived. In short order, Jones retracted her brave comments on private prisons cherry-picking less expensive inmates and her staffing recommendations that were higher than what the governor included in his budget.
Then in another disappointing move, she put a gag order on investigators to prevent them from discussing prison abuses.
With all due respect, I want to retract my kudos. Jones has not proved to be the independent leader needed to right the ship.
She needs to encourage investigators to seek out abuse, to fix the problems (and not continue the pattern of covering them up) and to fight for the funding and staffing levels to meet the mission of the department.
The corrections department’s website defines its mission quite simply: to protect the public safety, to ensure the safety of its personnel, and to provide proper care and supervision of all offenders under its jurisdiction while assisting their reentry into society.
By even the most generous of measures, DOC is failing that mission miserably.
Florida Senate leaders on the issue — Sens. Greg Evers, Rob Bradley and Jeff Clemens — have crafted meaningful policy changes to address the problems. They passed a bill out of committee creating an independent commission to oversee the troubled prisons. Jones and the Scott administration seem unsupportive even with the U.S. Department of Justice looking over Florida’s shoulder.
Gov. Scott failed to fund the investigators former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey requested before Scott’s minions forced him out. Perhaps his ouster had more to do with the prison mess than we originally thought. Did he have to take a bullet, too?
The cynic in me is starting to believe that the Scott administration doesn’t want to fix the problems at the department and doesn’t want to fully investigate the abuse that has been and still is occurring.
In the meantime, people in state supervision are dying and the state is exposed to costly litigation and liability.
Perhaps this is the means to an end and Scott’s true mission is to fully privatize Florida’s prisons — at any cost.
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The Palm Beach Post, Fla.
TALLAHASSEE — In the wake of reports of widespread maltreatment and rising inmate deaths by The Palm Beach Post, Florida’s prisons chief said Wednesday that she plans to renegotiate — or ultimately toss out — health care contracts worth $1.3 billion.
“All options are on the table,” Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told the House Judiciary Committee.
“We are going to make recommendations to the governor and the Legislature about what our best option is for the future,” she said. “And it’s going to be based solely on the needs of our inmates and their health care.”
Jones’ unexpected decision comes amid recent revelations by The Post that links the two companies handling prison health services, Corizon Inc. and Wexford Health Sources, to deficient care. State monitors found required reports on inmate deaths in 2014 weren’t regularly turned over to the state. Proof that doctors or nurses saw inmates was sometimes faked or nonexistent, some medicines were expired or mislabeled and psychiatric drugs were handed out like candy.
In January, Tammie White became at least the second inmate in 10 months to die after her end-stage cancer was treated with over-the-counter painkillers. A third inmate whose spinal cancer was treated with Tylenol and ibuprofen, featured in Post stories last year, remains in serious condition.
Attorney Randall Berg, director of the Florida Justice Institute, has represented inmates for 30 years. “I thought the medical care provided by the Department of Corrections was bad,” said Berg, “but it was certainly better than what I have seen of late.”
Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Greg Evers, R-Baker, who visited a Panhandle prison and was shocked to find more than 1,400 inmates monitored by one health care staffer, last week urged Jones to either put teeth in the health care contracts or throw them out entirely.
Jones Wednesday said that DOC already has opened talks with Corizon and Wexford on reworking the contracts, with an eye to enhancing prescription drug delivery, mental health services and nursing care. That includes requiring more registered nurses to be on hand rather than less-skilled staffers.
Changing the contracts could take more than a year to finalize, but Jones said the private companies have endorsed demands for short-term improvements.
If the talks collapse, Jones said the state could return to providing health care.
It shouldn’t be a complicated equation, said Randall Berg, an attorney and director of the Florida Justice Institute. “If taxpayers are not getting the medical services they are paying for, then the state ought to get rid of the companies.”
Corizon and Wexford each hold five-year contracts to provide medical, psychiatric and dental care. Corizon, which provides care to the vast majority of Florida’s roughly 100,000 prisoners and is linked to the majority of reported shortcomings, holds a contract worth $1.2 billion. It did not disclose certain legal settlements and two investigations critical of its care prior to winning the bid, The Post reported last year, despite a requirement to do so.
Wexford’s contract is valued at $240 million.
Roughly 100 days after health care was handed off to the two companies beginning in 2013, the state’s monthly inmate death count shot to a 10-year high and the number of seriously ill prisoners sent for outside hospital care plummeted, The Post found. The annual death rate for 2014 was the highest in a decade, according to DOC mortality figures.
Following weeks of questions from The Post about inmate deaths, DOC last year announced Corizon failed to provide adequate care and that its contract was at risk. The company and DOC crafted a plan to address substandard care. Additional Corizon staff was brought in. Modest fines were assessed — $2,500 for every time a company didn’t live up to a contractual requirement.
“I don’t believe privatization was the wrong thing to do,” Jones told the committee. “I think we didn’t do it in the right way.”
In January, Corizon was penalized $22,500. Wexford was penalized $2,500.
Controversy stemming from private health care is just one problem plaguing Florida’s $2 billion prison system, the nation’s third largest.
In November, a university panel studying Florida’s prisons concluded that it was so deeply flawed that it should basically be rebuilt from the ground up.
The panel also called for creating an independent oversight board for the state’s prisons, one that could prove a resource for whistleblowers, work to improve safety for inmates and guards and blunt the cronyism that critics say dominates many lockups.
Gov. Rick Scott last month released a budget proposal that called for increasing DOC’s budget by $51.2 million, while adding $17.5 million to fill 300 vacancies within the department, about half what the agency sought.
Jones earlier acknowledged that losing some 1,200 positions, relocating 11,000 inmates and closing almost two-dozen institutions since 2010 have combined to increase tension behind bars for both inmates and correctional officers.
|McClatchy-Tribune News Service|
But she has indicated that Scott’s spending proposal would move DOC in the right direction after a year marked by reports of inmate deaths, abusive guards and cover-ups.