Prison privatization has been a contentious issue in Florida—even costing one Florida Department of Corrections’ Secretary his job. But, after the latest DOC head made some candid remarks on the topic, could she now be backtracking?
At a Senate Criminal Justice Committee meeting Tuesday, Julie Jones admitted something that previous Secretaries carefully denied.
That question? Whether privately-run facilities in Florida do what’s called cherry-picking or choosing the healthier, less expensive inmates and leave those who require more expensive care for the state-run facilities.
Committee Chairman Greg Evers (R-Baker) asked Jones about the issue Tuesday.
“Wouldn’t you say that the Legislature in the past four years has cut almost a billion dollars from the DOC budget, mainly and permanently cutting the jobs of 2,600 correctional officers and prison health care practitioners,” asked Evers.
“Yes, sir,” Jones replied. “That would be pretty accurate.”
“Alright, and that led to more of the privatized prisons and the handpicking of the least violent and the healthiest inmates that actually went to private prisons,” continued Evers.
“That’s correct, sir,” answered Jones.
“Alright, I just wanted to get that on the record,” stated Evers.
And, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) says that differs from what her predecessor Mike Crews has said.
“You’re giving me a different answer that the privates get all the easy ones and you [the state-run facilities] get all the bad ones,” asked Bradley, at the time.
“Yes, sir. That is my belief,” Jones replied.
“That’s your belief,” said Bradley. “Okay. We need to explore that then.”
When asked after the meeting by reporters whether she broke a “code” admitting to lawmakers that private prisons cherry pick, Julie Jones answered, “I don’t know…I’m a very plain-spoken, honest person, and we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing in order to get this thing fixed.”
But, a day later, over in the other chamber, Jones changed her tune when Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) asked her the same question.
“Was it occurring with the privates cherry picking prisoners leaving the DOC system to handle some of the worst or bad cases that were left and not picked,” asked Rouson, during Wednesday's Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.
“If we can recognize this is my second week and a half, I misspoke yesterday,” replied Jones.
And, Jones further explained that while they do have low-level offenders in their private prisons, that’s by design.
“It’s by design because if you connect the per diem rate that’s being paid into those private prisons and you look at the individuals, they are specially equipped to look at treatment, education, and they’re staffed to look at the people that are the low-level offenders to get them out of the main prison system and send them back into our communities. So, in that respect, yes, we do send a select group of prisoners to those private prisons, but that is by design,” said Jones.
This week, DOC Secretary Jones is making appearances at legislative committees to give input on the state’s troubled prison system. It’s been plagued by inmate deaths and prison guard abuse allegations.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.