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Former Prisons Chief Criticizes Gov. Scott

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Florida Department of Corrections
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The former head of Florida’s prisons is blasting Gov. Rick Scott and his administration, saying they put politics ahead of guard and prisoner safety.

Mike Crews, who resigned in November as Department of Corrections head, told the Miami Heraldin an interview published Sunday that Scott’s aides were worried last year that deaths and other problems at the prisons would hurt the governor’s re-election chances and wanted him to blame employees who weren’t at fault. He says he refused.

He said the governor’s office worried most about appearances.

“I guess you can say they were more concerned with the crafting and writing of news releases and that had little to do with the reality of what needed to be done to keep the institutions safe and secure,” Crews said.

But a spokesman for Scott told the newspaper that the governor is committed to reforms within the state’s Department of Corrections and has high standards for the agency.

The governor has very high standards for agency leaders and holds them responsible for making improvements and addressing any chronic failures within their systems. We continue to challenge the DOC to create a culture of transparency and accountability while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Scott’s spokesman, John Tupps, said.

On Wednesday, Scott announced a proposed $51.5 million dollar increase in the prisons budget, which includes $15.5 million to fill staff vacancies, $2 million to train new recruits at local collages, and $15 billion to repair deteriorated facilities. The budget does not include pay raises for existing employees who haven’t seen a pay increase in seven years.

Crews’ successor, Julie Jones, said the plan is to save money spent on overtime by hiring new recruits.

The state’s prisons are chronically understaffed and in disrepair, Crews said. The conditions are risk to both employees and prisoners and have contributed to a rise in serious incidents including prisoner deaths, he said.

The agency’s trucks, buses and vans had so many miles on them that he worried they would break down on the interstate and convicts would escape. Contraband smuggling had become so widespread and lucrative that rank-and-file guards made more money selling $200 packs of cigarettes than they would if they were promoted to a $38,000-a-year lieutenant’s post, he told the newspaper.

“I hope during this session the Legislature and governor recognize how significant it is to properly fund the DOC. If they don’t, there is probably going to be a catastrophe, whether it’s a riot or an officer being killed. Our prisons are not safe,” Crews said.