Even With Scott's Executive Order, Prison Reform Bills Still In The Works For 2016

May 15, 2015

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After recently issuing an Executive Order reforming Florida’s prisons, proponents of prison reform are weighing in on Governor Rick Scott’s order.  Still, some lawmakers say prison reform bills could still be in the works for 2016.

During the 2015 legislative session, Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker) was tasked with leading the Senate’s effort on prison reform. His omnibus bill died in the last days of session, after a budget impasse between the House and Senate over healthcare funding and the House adjourned three days early.

So when Governor Scott used his Executive powers to issue the order reforming Florida’s prisons, Evers says he was happy.

“Governor Scott…I applaud him for what he did and using his Executive Order to make a lot of the changes that we had put forth in our bill that ultimately died during the Session because the House went home,” said Evers. “So, I really applaud him for that.”

He says he had even spoken to Scott just weeks before the final prison reform product was supposed to be done, but was not prepared for this outcome.

“I just told him that the changes and what we were trying to do in the bill, and he thought they were reasonable. And, so I was shocked he used his Executive Power, or surprised is probably a better word, but I applaud him for his use of the Executive Order,” added Evers.

So, which parts does he like of the Executive order?

“Well, they did the use of force,” continued Evers. “They did additional training. He took parts from both the House and Senate bill.”

One area of the Executive Order blended two separate proposals together. The House version expanded the number of geographical regions making up the Florida Department of Corrections from three to four, while the Senate’s called for an oversight board made up of nine people that could do surprise inspections and conduct its own investigations into correctional facilities.

Scott’s order allows for the expansion of the regions and allows them to make at least two unannounced visits at correctional facilities in the area.

“I think that they should be allowed to make unannounced visits at any time, and not be limited to just two in a specific amount of time. But, you know, what he did was a tremendous help,” remarked Evers.

But, some would disagree.

“I think that is flawed for the fact that the people who are doing these unannounced visits are DOC personnel,” said George Mallinckrodt, a former DOC mental health counselor. “So, they’re coming into a situation where they may or may not be amenable to really seeking out abuse.”

Mallinckrodt says what needs to happen is the oversight board contained in the original Senate proposal.

“The oversight commission is essential to disabling, disbanding, surgically removing this culture of abuse and secrecy,” added Mallinckrodt. “And, without something like that and a body that has powers to investigate, make arrests, and dig deep, this culture is so deeply entrenched, it’s going to stay that way.”

Along with more reforms dealing with mental health, Mallinckrodt hopes to see that oversight commission appear in a 2016 bill.

The actual author of the oversight commission is Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), also a major contributor to the Senate’s omnibus prison reform bill.

He says he too, like Evers, liked areas contained Scott’s order. That includes making sure there’s a formal agreement between the DOC and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that the FDLE investigate inmate deaths.

“With regard to the Memorandum of Understanding with FDLE, I think it’s critical we have an independent review of deaths in the prison system,” said Bradley. “So, having the FDLE handle those investigations and having that formalized relationship between the two agencies is absolutely critical.”

Still, there is something Bradley says he’d like to revisit in 2016. He says it’s not his original idea for the independent oversight board, but it’s another tentative plan that the House and Senate were in talks over with regard to having a Joint Legislative Oversight Committee.

“I was comfortable with what appeared to be the compromise between the House and Senate where we would have a designated Joint Oversight Committee made up of House and Senate members,” added Bradley. “I thought that was a reasonable compromise. Unfortunately, because the House left before the end of Session, we were not able to complete our work and have a bill that passed. So, I look forward to reopening the dialogue with our friends in the House.”

And, Evers says this is by no means the end.

“We will continue to monitor and look at the prison system as we go forth through the Summer through next Fall, and I’m sure by the time that we get to another Session, there will be some additional changes and some additional legislation that we will have to pass in order to assist in making those changes,” promised Evers.

Scott’s Executive Order also includes ensuring that the Florida Department of Corrections establishes a policy to protect DOC employees who report wrongdoing from retaliation and expands the number of areas inmates can report abuse.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.