Top Legislative Leaders: Florida Prison Reform Not Going Away Anytime Soon

Jan 28, 2015

Sen. President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli speaking to reporters during the Annual Associated Press gathering in Tallahassee Wednesday.
Credit D.A. Robin / WFSU-FM

Florida lawmakers are expected to take up an omnibus bill next week in an effort to reform the state’s troubled prison system. The system—plagued by allegations of inmate abuse and inmate deaths—was also a topic of discussion Wednesday at the State Capitol.

Already, the Chairmen of the Criminal Justice committees in the House and Senate have conducted several surprise inspections of some correctional facilities.

And, a comprehensive bill looking to reform the system has been filed by Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker) in his capacity as the chair of the Senate panel.

It includes more training for prison guards and also defines “neglect of an inmate.”

And, Senate President Andy Gardiner praises Evers, who he says continues to take the lead on the issue.

“Obviously, it’s the chairman’s decision what he wants to bring forward, but when the Chairman Evers came and talked to me I was very clear, go forth and you’re the Chairman of the committee, and as you’ve seen he’s done a couple surprise visits where he’s really pulling all that information together. So, we’re very open to it. Obviously, the department is going to come forward with some ideas.  The bill that was rolled out yesterday really just starts that dialogue, and we’ll let the committee come up with what the recommendations are and see what the Senate wants to do,” said Gardiner, speaking to reporters Wednesday.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli also weighed in. While he says he’s not well enough informed to comment on reform proposals, he’s glad talks are moving forward.

“Certainly interested in that issue,” said Crisafulli. “I know Chairman [Larry] Metz went and visited one of the facilities in his area. We’re going to have those conversations. I mean, we’re at the beginning of those committee weeks and session, and obviously the committee process will have conversations on this issue as we move forward.”

At an annual Associated Press gathering in Tallahassee Wednesday, Governor Rick Scott told the crowd he’s calling for increased spending on the state’s prison system. That differs from four years ago, when he called for deep cuts to that agency.

“Well, first off, [DOC Secretary] Julie Jones is doing and will continue to do a great job,” said Scott. “She did a good job at Highway Safety. It’s nice to have a budget surplus.”

And, Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) says the issue also gets top billing for her party.

“We all know that this is a high priority,”said Joyner. “It is a priority of the Legislature as well as the new DOC Secretary, and we need to know what are her plans for cleaning up those responsible and the people who tolerated such inhumane and cruel conditions. Wherever the buck stops, whosever responsible, they need to be held accountable, and this is what we must do.”

Meanwhile, newly appointed Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones says she’s still in the process of implementing some of the reforms her predecessor had started, and adds she intends to create some of her own aimed at changing the culture in the state’s correctional facilities.

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