As Florida Lawmakers Work On Another Reform Proposal, Prison Chief Urges Caution

Oct 12, 2015

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones speaks to reporters, while Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker) looks on.
Credit Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM

Florida lawmakers are hoping to further reform Florida’s troubled prison system with a proposal currently in the works. But, there’s at least one area of the bill that’s giving the head of the prison agency a bit of pause.

Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker) is the chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, tasked with coming up with legislation to help the Florida Department of Corrections. That agency’s been plagued by allegations of abuse by prison guards, inmate deaths, and cover ups.

This past session, lawmakers came up with legislation to help reform the system. But, it failed to pass amid a budget impasse between the House and Senate.

So, the Governor incorporated elements of both the House and Senate proposals into a couple of Executive Orders.

Still, Evers says there were some areas that weren’t included that he’d like his Senate panel to look into.

“And, we want to relook at all those items, and it also gives them opportunity for the members of the committee to add additional items that has come to the top or that they know of that have happened in the past year. And, it also gives us an opportunity to refocus the direction that the committee is also going,” he said.

One particular part of the bill Ever says makes it a third degree felony for any correctional employee to intentionally harm an inmate physically or withhold food, clothing and medical treatment.

“You have to keep in mind that the third degree felony is a maximum, but all this is to try and legislate common sense that you try to legislate common sense that you treat a person with some dignity,” he added. “Even though we have them incarcerated, they have to do their time, but we still have to try and treat that person with some dignity.”

Other elements of the proposed committee bill include monitoring Florida’s elderly prisoner population, expanding the ability for an inmate to get a one-time reduction in their sentence, and increasing the frequency of the surveys done of the prisons’ physical and mental health care system.

“There’s elements of the PCB [proposed committee bill] that we would be fine with, and we’ll continue to work with the committee as it evolves to see what else is added into that bill,” said Julie Jones, Florida's prison chief.

Jones says while there are some areas she’s okay with, the part creating a felony concerns her.

“I have a little bit of a concern associated with the felony provisions because there’s already felony provisions in law for any type of battery,” she added. “You know, singling out corrections officers for an additional charge, I think, isn’t necessary, but we’ll work with the committee.”

While the Senate Criminal Justice Committee members never officially took up the measure last week, they are slated to start the discussion soon when lawmakers next meet.

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