There are some lingering questions surrounding Florida’s troubled prison system, and some Florida lawmakers want answers.
John Ulm is a Senior Inspector within the prison agency’s Inspector General’s office—tasked with looking into misconduct within the prison agency. During this past session, he was one of several investigators who testified about the Florida Department of Corrections during the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
“The atrocities that I saw on the streets of America hold no cord to what I’ve seen inside the institutions of the penitentiaries of the state of Florida, and we ask our correctional officers to go in there every day and do a difficult job. I know it. I did that job as an 18-year-old kid. I was hired at Madison Correctional Institution at 18-years-old,” he said, during the March hearing.
“Because of the fact that those folks came forward, I feel like they’re being retaliated against right now,” said Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker), who chairs that committee.
Evers says he thought the promise he got from Corrections Secretary Julie Jones months ago would hold. At the time, she’d said those employees who came forward would not face any retaliation.
Later, she’d called the employees who testified “disgruntled employees.” Ulm is among several investigators, suing the agency for alleged retaliation, after claiming they were denied whistleblower status.
Now, Evers says since their testimony, it’s gotten worse, and he wants to talk to Jones about it.
“I’ve heard that they were put under additional internal investigations, that they’re being locked in an office,” added Evers. “I mean why am I paying somebody if they’re just going to be locked in an office and give them a chair and a desk with nothing to do? If you can’t use it, that person needs to be moved to another agency that’s willing to use their expertise because these folks were highly trained.”
Evers is leading an effort on a bill that includes making it a third degree felony if a correctional officer intentionally harms an inmate in any way. Now, he says he wouldn’t mind doing the same for correctional officers targeting other correctional officers.
“I would feel like if that was going on, whoever was doing that should fall under that third degree felony, if they’re retaliating against them because actually, it should be grounds for dismissal of that person that’s doing the retaliation,” he continued.
Evers also intends to question Jones about the prison’s Inspector General stepping down from his role earlier this month. Now, Jeff Beasley will lead the Intelligence division within the IG’s office.
“I mean did we create him a position,” asked Evers. “Or did that position already exist? What are the duties of that position? Is it instrumental in investigations and deciding what cases go forward and what cases don’t move? Because if that be the case, he had that same knowledge and that same capability when he was the Inspector General.”
Secretary Jones faced a similar question earlier this month from Evers’ panel about Beasley’s move—which she says she had nothing to do with.
“I’m trying to understand how someone goes from an IG [Inspector General] that perhaps they didn’t perform well or something, and then they get integrated in the system. What kind of signal does that send to the rest of the environment,” asked Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville), also the panel's vice chair.
“Madame Chair, there were no performance issues associated with the IG,” Jones replied. “He did four years’ worth of good duty and has elected to step away from his position and do something different.”
In his role as Inspector General, Beasley had come under fire for claims he’d helped cover-up investigations surrounding inmate deaths and allegations of abuse by prison guards.
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