Posts Tagged ‘Julie Jones’

Florida prison chief: State losing corrections staff to ‘Wal-Mart,’ creating insecurity in system

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

More than three-quarters of Florida’s corrections officers have less than two years’ experience. In some state prisons, a single CO will be left alone to supervise 150-200 inmates in a jail block.
Contraband has become so bad, one random search of (just half) a Dade facility turned up $15,000 in street value of cocaine, seven knives, 46 cellphones and an array of other drugs and illicit materials, said Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones Thursday.
The state’s prisons chief was in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, having to explain just how bad the situation was, even though the state’s inmate population dropped by 3,000 from the year before.
Three main problems, she said, were safety, recidivism, and operational deficiencies — all due to a lack of funding. Corrections officers are paid so little, and have such a high stress in a dangerous job, she can’t keep them on the payroll.
“I’m losing state and local officers to state and local businesses — even to Wal-Mart,” she told the committee. “We hire thousands of new corrections officers every year. We’re a hiring machine. The problem is we can’t keep them.”
She said turnover for COs has increased 95 percent since 2009.
Entry-level base pay for a corrections officer before completion of on-the-job training hovers around $29,000. It goes up, slightly, when a combination of certifications and on-the-job training are completed, but for working 12 hour shifts — sometimes doubles due to the lack of staffing, especially at correctional facilities specializing in mental health issues, Jones said — it’s no wonder why she can’t keep anyone on for more than a year or so.
That tempts some COs to earn a little extra money on the side.
Jones said, unfortunately, some of the ones securing the facility are the ones bringing in the contraband or are looking the other way

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Sean Shaw and Darryl Rouson attempt to deal with Florida’s ban on voting rights for ex-felons on the front end

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Under current Florida law, those who are convicted of any felony lose the right to vote, the right to sit on a jury, the right to hold public office, and the right to possess a firearm, unless they are granted the restoration of their civil rights by the state Office of Executive Clemency.
Legislation being sponsored by Tampa Bay area Democrats Darryl Rouson and Sean Shaw would end the automatic suspension of civil rights for those convicted of a non-violent felony.
“Even if the sentence has been served, a felony conviction in the State of Florida is a lifelong punishment,” says House District 59 Representative Sean Shaw in a statement released by the Florida House Democrats on Wednesday. “It is unreasonable to expect someone to fully reintegrate back into society when they are being treated as a second class citizen. If we are serious about sustaining a fair system of justice, we must send a message that if a person is convicted of a non-violent crime, their rights won’t be permanently taken away.”
St. Petersburg’s Daryl Rouson is sponsoring an identical bill (SB 848) in the Senate.
The bills are part of a whole series of criminal justice reforms that are being debated this session in the Florida Legislature, but whether they can get GOP buy-in is another story.
Florida is one of just a handful of states that does not automatically restore voting rights once a felon has paid his or her debts to society, a fact of life in the Sunshine State for decades. There are 1.6 million Floridians currently disenfranchised — the highest state total in the nation — and over 10,000 are waiting for a hearing on their restoration applications.
A class-action lawsuit filed earlier this week aims to automatically restore former felons’ voting rights and eliminate Florida’s rights restoration process.
The Fair Elections Legal Network and the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC filed the lawsuit on behalf

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Lawsuit against Rick Scott and clemency board seeks to restore former felons’ voting rights

Monday, March 13th, 2017

A class action lawsuit filed on Monday aims to automatically restore former felons’ voting rights and eliminate Florida’s rights restoration process, considered one of the most onerous in the nation.
The lawsuit was filed by the Fair Elections Legal Network and the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC on behalf of seven former felons. It targets all four members of the Cabinet, and six other state officials, including Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Dept. of Corrections head Julie Jones.
Florida is one of just a handful of states that does not automatically restore voting rights once a felon has paid his or her debts to society. There are 1.6 million Floridians currently disenfranchised—the highest state total in the nation—and over 10,000 are waiting for a hearing on their restoration applications.
There is currently an effort to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot 2018 by the group Floridians for a Fair Democracy that would automatically restore voting rights for non-violent felons.
The lawsuit cites the lack of any rules governing the Executive Clemency Board’s decisions to grant or deny applications. Without any rules, the system and the applicants are prone to arbitrary treatment, violating the 1st and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, according to the lawsuit.
“Unlike the overwhelming majority of states, Florida simply has no law that tells ex-felons when their voting rights are restored. Instead, they must beg state officials to give them their rights back and this set-up violates our Constitution,” said Jon Sherman, Senior Counsel for the Fair Elections Legal Network. “The right to vote should be automatically restored to ex-felons at a specific point in time—the completion of a sentence—not whenever a politician decides you’ve earned it.”
Giving government officials unfettered discretion, according to the complaint, leads to unequal treatment of people in similar circumstances. The lawsuit quotes Governor Scott speaking of the process at last month’s Cabinet

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Rick Scott calls for widespread pay raises for corrections officers

Monday, January 30th, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott is looking to give Florida corrections officers a pay raise, including $38 million for the state’s prison system in his proposed budget.
Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald reports that the increase, part of the budget Scott will announce Tuesday, is for “officers up to and including the rank of captain.”
Also, Scott wants to offer a $1, 000 signing bonus to new officers at certain understaffed prisons, and boost pay for officers at prison mental-health units. If approved, that combined program could cost taxpayers about $7.5 million.
Florida’s prison system, one of the most violent in the nation, has been plagued by corruption, reports of mistreatment and brutality, as well as low pay and high turnover staff rates. Over the past decade, employees at corrections facilities received a raise only once, which Klas writes was a one-time bonus for lowest paid employees.
“The governor believes in investments that allow the Florida Department of Corrections to better retain officers and have an experienced workforce,” Scott spokesperson McKinley Lewis told the Herald.
Despite warnings from Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones that low pay had resulted in massive turnover rates at the troubled agency, Klas notes Scott has so far fought the call for corrections employee pay increases, while pushing for more than $1 billion in tax cuts. For the 2017-2018 fiscal year, Scott is looking for another $618 million in tax cuts.
In an audit of the state prison system, conducted in 2015 for the Legislature, turnover rates in state prisons increase by nearly half from 2009-2015, leaving corrections staff with fewer than three years’ experience on average. Klas notes the audit found that “at five of the ten largest Florida prisons, only half of staff members had more than two years of work experience.” Inmate deaths in Florida prisons have

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Julie Jones says prisons need higher pay to stop ‘churn in the hiring’

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Turnover of staff at Florida’s prisons is so high that a substantial majority of guards in some prisons have less than two years experience, Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said Wednesday before the Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.
Jones was at the subcommittee’s introductory meeting to push hers’ and Gov. Rick Scott administration’s priorities. They start with pay increases to attempt to boost recruitment and retention in prisons where guards can make less than $30,000 a year right now.
Jones outlined her top priority as a safety and security issue, arguing the inexperienced staff can lack the savvy needed to keep the system stable.
“So that experience working with inmates, knowing how to talk to an inmate, and… there’s smarts [that] corrections officers and police officers have to de-escalate; they don’t have enough experience on the job to be able to do that,” Jones said. “So contraband is up. Inmate violence is up. Inmate violence on inmates and officers is up. And it’s a churn in the hiring that has to stop in order to stabilize the system.”
The churn, she said, is 29.3 percent annually, about 3,000 prison guard jobs a year in the Florida Department of Corrections System. That doesn’t include another 1,000 floating job openings she maintains. “I’ve got facilities now that are 60, 70 percent [staff who have] less than two years.”
Though several members of the subcommittee had already stated that their highest priorities this year would be to address recidivism among parolees, Jones found support for her argument, particularly from Chairman Aaron Bean, a Jacksonville Republican.
“I looked at the numbers. A starting correction officer’s salary is $29,000 and change. They become certified, they go to $30,000,” Bean said. “But yet they can still go down the street to work at a distribution center where they start at $39-40,000, and not have

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There oughta be a T-shirt for the David Richardson Tour

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

State Representative — and glutton for punishment — David Richardson (D-Miami Beach) brought his lonely crusade for improved prison infrastructure to the Columbia Correctional Institution on Thanksgiving Eve, giving inmates and guards the rare gift of something to be grateful for.
Florida’s correctional facilities have been decaying for decades, out of sight and out of mind except when there’s a riot, or bad publicity, or bad publicity caused by a riot.
Self-styled “one-man band” Richardson has taken it upon himself to change the public attention paradigm with a series of surprise visits to the decrepit, dangerous Big Houses located in places few Floridians can locate on a map. He’s shown up unannounced at 60 facilities and spoken with more than 225 inmates. It’s a tour without a T-shirt, but the Miami Herald has covered Richardson like Rolling Stone covers The Rolling Stones, making it impossible for the Department of Corrections (DOC) to ignore him, even if he is a Democrat.
The punch list at Columbia is a familiar one. Unflushable toilets. Unworkable showers. Cold water in hot water faucets. Heating systems that don’t work on freezing winter nights. Cell windows jammed shut on broiling summer days. “Head-splitting” noise from out-of-control exhaust fans.
“The conditions were horrific — unfit for human habitation,” Richardson told the Herald.
To her credit, DOC Secretary Julie Jones did not try to deny Richardson’s findings or lie her way out of the Herald’s questions. Basic maintenance has been neglected for so long that Jones couldn’t get half of Florida’s prisons fixed if she had Enterprise Florida’s slush funds to work with.
Forced to function like a triage nurse in an overwhelmed emergency room, Jones has no choice but to give the leaking roofs a “priority over hot water” and to rely on corrections staff to bring their own wrenches and squeeze in tasks

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Jerry Demings urges state to keep open community facilities

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings on Tuesday urged state officials to reconsider their decision to close community-based transition centers.
Demings, a Democrat seeking re-election this fall, was responding to reports that the Florida Department of Corrections intends to close the Orlando Transition Center and others around that state, eliminating 688 community-based substance abuse treatment beds.
“Research indicates that this method of treatment has been effective at reducing recidivism for offending and drug use,” Demings said in a statement issued Tuesday. “Placing low-level offenders back behind prison walls increases the cost to Florida taxpayers of substance abuse treatment and incarceration of offenders. Secondly, a lower-recidivism rate results in reduced crime. Conversely, an increase in recidivism results in increased crime.”Demings opposition to the state plan
echoes that made yesterday in press conference organized by Bridges of America, an Orlando-based nonprofit, and involving ex-cons and a bipartisan gathering of elected officials such as state Reps. Randolph Bracy, Victor Torres, Mike Miller, Eric Eisnaugle and Bob Cortes.
Demings faces Republican Spike Hopkins in the Nov. 8 election.
Demings cited various studies and argued that the “Theraputic Community-based” model has proven successful.
“It is for these reasons I urge the Florida Department of Corrections to rethink the proposed change,” he said.
In a press release issued last week, DOC Secretary Julie Jones said the intent was to use the money to treat more prisoners, rather than focus on those who need the least treatment, and that a pilot project called SPECTRUM would be used to look at new ways to do that.
“Our top priority is to prepare our inmate and offender populations for successful lives in the community where they serve as productive members of society,” she stated in the release.
The post Jerry Demings urges state to keep open community facilities appeared first on Florida Politics.

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Dept of Corrections, Bridges of America battling again over inmate programs

Monday, September 26th, 2016

The state’s Department of Corrections and Bridges of America, an Orlando-based nonprofit, are once more warring over transitional programs for the state’s inmates.
On Monday morning, Bridges representatives and supporters say they will rally at the organization’s Orlando Transition Center “to respond to (DOC’s) plans to shut the center down,” the group said.
Lori Constantino-Brown, president and CEO of Bridges, explained in an open letter that the prisons agency wants “to move 688 community-based substance abuse beds from community facilities back behind prison walls.”
The Orlando Transition Center “houses and treats 136 transitioning and community release inmates.”
“Moving these beds back into prisons not only results in increased costs to Florida taxpayers, but also impacts the transitional process of those non-violent inmates participating,” she wrote.
This isn’t the first time that Brown and Corrections Secretary Julie Jones had a high-profile scuffle.
A similar battle broke out earlier this year over Broward Bridge, a residential program offering transitional counseling, drug treatment and other services to inmates on work release.
The state wanted to pull the plug; Bridges waged a PR battle to keep the facility open.
The organization said 89 percent of men who start the Broward program successfully complete it, and only 10 percent of men and 5 percent of women who graduate from such “community transition centers” get in trouble with the law again.
Several state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle opposed that proposed shutdown, including state Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat, and House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa.
State Sen. Greg Evers – a Baker Republican whose Criminal Justice Committee oversees state prisons – went as far as to say DOC officials had “lied” to him after promising they wouldn’t interfere with such programs.
That tussle ended when DOC agreed to place inmates then using Broward Bridge in other treatment centers

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