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2 State Agencies on Hotseat

The state departments that are supposed to protect children and mentally-retarded inmates are being challenged in the wake of incidents that led to preventable deaths.

First, State Sen. Eleanor Sobel accused the Department of Children and Families (DCF) of a "cover-up and a whitewash" after the agency said no records were generated during an internal investigation into a previous alleged cover-up, the Miami Herald reports.

Second, there are questions about suspicious deaths of inmates at prisons in the state that were never investigated by the Department of Corrections, the Miami Heraldreports in a separate article.

Regarding DCF, the genesis of the cover-up accusation was the discovery that a regional office that covers Broward, Palm Beach and three other counties failed to write and send in reports on the deaths of 30 children known to the agency as being at risk of harm. At the time, last fall and early 2014, the Herald was known to be preparing a report on such deaths.

That report, Innocents Lost, was published in March. It said 477 children supposedly under DCF watch had died in Florida over a six-year period. The series led to legislative hearings and bills to overhaul the agency.

More recently, the Herald reported that the 30 deaths from Southeast had been withheld from the total. DCF Deputy Secretary Pete Digre was assigned to investigate.

When he finished, Digre said Regional Administrator Dennis Miles may have violated the letter of the law, but didn't intentionally "shield information from anyone," the Herald reported. DCF Secretary Mike Carroll gave Miles two days of suspension without pay.

"I can assure you that no information was destroyed, and no child deaths were unaccounted for," Carroll said.

When the Herald tried to obtain the records of the investigation, Digre and Carroll said there were not any -- nothing on paper, nothing digital.

Sobel, a Democrat who chairs the Senate's Children, Family and Elder Affairs Committee, said the agency is engaging in a huge cover-up to preserve its public image. "They are obstructing information, they are obstructing justice, and they are obstructing transparency," she told the Herald.

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, agrees. "I don't believe the department can, in good conscience, say they conducted an investigation if no paperwork was produced," she told the Herald.

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As for the Department of Corrections, the Herald recounts a number of suspicious inmate deaths over the years, most recently, a scalding death of a mentally retarded inmate in the shower, and raises questions about why DOC has failed to carry out investigations afterward. The warden of the facility in which the scalded inmate died had been in trouble previously when a suspicious death occurred at a different prison, the Herald reports.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.