Excessive use of force incidents are down, but officials say Florida’s troubled prison agency still needs more staff. Those are just some of the issues that came up during the prison chief’s initial Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday.
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told a group of Senators the agency is starting to get on the right path with its use of force incidents. The prison agency has been under scrutiny for its handling of inmates and abuse allegations by prison guards.
“I’m proud to report the department has observed a consistent decline in the use of force incidents, and we’re currently at a five year low and even negated the need for the use of force,” said Jones. “Along with enhanced expectations and training of our staff, we’ve implemented polices that have changed our approach and even negated the need for use of force.”
Speaking during her confirmation hearing in the Senate Budget panel that looks at Criminal and Civil Justice issues, Jones says she followed through on requests by Senators who sit on the panel.
That includes Sen. Greg Evers’ (R-Baker) request to step up the reporting of use of force incidents.
She’s also working on a priority of Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) to install cameras in the correctional facilities—which she says is a heavy lift.
“It’d be $17 million for the cameras, and upwards of $12 million for the IT infrastructure, and that’s to do everything everywhere,” she added. “So, it’d be a multi-year project, with an appropriation request in 2017-2018.”
But, she says to implement that initiative, more staff is definitely needed. And, Jones says she will be requesting upcoming funds.
While Bradley lobbed a series of questions at the Secretary ranging from the cameras to re-entry efforts, he says he’s a fan of Jones.
“Madame Secretary, I am a supporter, and I really appreciate…I know we’ve come a long way as a state,” he stated. “We’ve got a long way to go, and I think you’re the right person to lead it.”
Sen. Joe Negron (R-Stuart), the panel's chair, also had high praise for Jones.
“Human beings are very defensive by nature,” he said. “We don’t want to admit mistakes. We don’t want to admit that there’s problems and what I’ve found a very good virtue and character trait in Secretary Jones is a willingness to acknowledge deficiencies and things that need to improve, but always focusing forward. So, she keeps her word. She acknowledges when there’s problems, and I think that the agency has made progress under her leadership, and I just want to thank you for your willingness to work with us in a way that’s honest and productive.”
At the close of the hearing, Jones received a unanimous vote of approval from the panel.
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