Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Legislature Failed on Prisons

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Legislature Failed on Prisons

Article excerpt

Historically, Florida's correctional system has been more medieval than modern in mindset.

It has been a toxic perspective that has produced institutional secrecy, prison scandals, inmate violence, high offender recidivism and much more.

So it has been both eye-opening and refreshing that Julie Jones has taken a more proactive path during her 15 months as secretary of Florida's Department of Corrections.

KEY REFORMS

During that time, Jones has:

- Cut out layers of bureaucracy that had previously worked to stifle lines of communications between the department head and the prison system's rank and file.

- Updated the internal information network to the point that whenever an incident happens in any Florida prison facility, she is immediately notified by text - and receives a detailed report by email within hours.

- Replaced scores of wardens and second-line supervisors to change the prison system's notorious "bunker mentality" culture - and require more accountability and transparency from those in leadership positions.

- Launched a pilot program that will do cutting-edge work in assessing thousands of prisoners, making it much easier for the prison system to identify and treat mentally ill offenders.

- Stepped up efforts to put more inmates into productive rehabilitation plans that reduce their risk of recidivism after release.

- Beefed up training for prison guards so they can better learn and detect the behavior traits of mentally ill inmates - which can dramatically increase the safety of officers when interacting with such prisoners.

- Put a renewed focus on using hard data and extensive research to help guide policy decisions, a welcome departure from the "Just keep doing it the way we've always done it" attitude that previously bogged down the Department of Corrections - and frustrated its past leaders.

- Provided needed stability to the corrections department by vowing to remain as secretary through the end of Gov. Rick Scott's term in 2018 (incredibly, Jones is the seventh person in nearly 10 years to lead the agency).

PRISON CHIEF IS SINCERE

During a recent conference call with the Times-Union editorial board, Jones came across as a sincere official determined to do more than merely incarcerate and warehouse prisoners. …

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