Scott Bumbles as Prisons Crumble by Dan Ruth * Tampa Bay Times

Posted: March 20, 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.

Ruth: Confusing Florida prisons with ‘Papillon’ 02/04/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 4, 2015 4:50pm]
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