Gov. Rick Scott ordered changes at the Department of Corrections last Friday to address prison beatings and corruption after the Legislature went home without doing the same.
The Legislature was working on bills to address problems after a series of reports detailed deaths, cover-ups and corruption in the prison system. But the bills died when the Florida House went home three days early over a budget impasse and a dispute with the Senate over health care coverage for the poor.
While Scott’s executive order doesn’t go quite as far as the legislative proposals, it does direct the department to boost the system it has in place to review prison safety and operations. It adds an additional review team to the three now in place.
Florida’s often-criticized prison system is one of the nation’s largest and houses roughly 100,000 inmates. But it’s been under increased scrutiny after suspicious deaths and allegations of cover-ups.
Among highly publicized cases, Randall Jordan-Aparo died at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010. He was reportedly gassed while in a confinement cell. And Darren Rainely, a mentally ill prisoner, died at Dade Correctional in 2012 after being punished with a shower so hot that his skin separated from his body.
A 55-page Senate proposal would have taken sole control over picking a corrections agency away from the governor and included the three-member Cabinet in the decision. It also would have created an independent commission to investigate corruption, safety and prisoner deaths.
Scott’s four-page order, among other things, directs the department to take steps to make sure prisons have a “retaliation-free environment, both for staff and for inmates.”
The department will also have to review every three months statistics and trends on use of force, inmate grievances and employee disciplinary reports and allegations of inmate abuse.
The order also requires inspectors to make at least two surprise visits to prisons every three months.
The department also will have to review how dependable current technology is in monitoring prisons and make recommendations on how to improve video and other systems that keep an eye on prisoner and guard interactions.
The order also gives prison medical staff the option of providing an employee identification number rather than their names when writing incident reports.
Prison investigators will also be given specialized training on how to handle allegations of sexual abuse.