News from Tallahassee for 4/1/15

House bill opens door to sheriffs housing more state prisoners posted on 3/18/15

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Florida’s sheriff-run jails would be the beneficiaries of the fallout of Florida’s troubled prison system under a bill passed unanimously Wednesday by a House committee that would allow courts to keep inmates in county jails for up to two years to avoid entering the state’s prison system.

Under the plan, the state would pay counties up to $60 a day to house inmates with lower-level felony convictions who have sentences that do not exceed two years. Current law allows counties to house state prisoners for only a year or less.

The proposal would apply to counties that volunteer to accept the state inmates and is likely to be used most by rural county jails, where the average daily cost is less than $60. In South Florida, where the cost to house a prisoner is more than twice what the state will pay, counties could lose money under the plan.

“This is an experimental approach to see if we can reduce recividivsm…separate lower level offenders from the harden offenders at the state level,’’ said Rep. Burgess, xxx who managed the bill for the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday. “We’re trying see if this works.”

While the proposal would benefit counties, it would also cost the state an estimated $5.8 million in additional funds to send inmates who would have been housed in Florida prisons at a cost of $44 a day to the county jails which would be paid $60.

The proposal has the support of the Florida Sheriff’s Association and drew bi-partisan support during the hearing.

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Senators told about corruption in Florida prison system posted on 3/11/15

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

prison cellsFormer and current employees in Florida's corrections system testified Tuesday about widespread corruption and unsafe conditions in the state's prisons, which house roughly 100,000 inmates.

A Senate committee that has been investigating Florida's Department of Corrections took the unusual step of swearing in witnesses under oath as they asked questions about the agency, and particularly the actions of the inspectors hired to investigate and report any wrongdoing.

Several testified and said they were dissuaded from pushing investigations into areas that would give the agency a "black eye" and that they feared retribution for speaking out.

One of the most damning parts of testimony came from Gulf County Sheriff Mike Harrison, who had worked as an inspector until he was elected last year.

Harrison testified about an investigation of a warden who was eventually fired by the department. He said that after a prosecutor concluded there was no criminal charges to pursue, investigators turned up additional evidence that could have been used against him. But Harrison said he was ordered to ignore the new information.

Harrison did not get into specifics about the warden's conduct, saying only it involved the cover-up of alleged medical neglect committed by a prison nurse. The warden was having a relationship with her.

When asked by senators, Harrison said he did not know who in the agency ordered him to keep his findings quiet.

"I don't know where the order came from," he testified.

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Bill would end police ticket quotas, speed traps posted on 3/6/15

by JIM SAUNDERS | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

The Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a bill (SB 264) that would make clear local law-enforcement agencies cannot use ticket quotas. Also, the bill would require individual local governments to submit reports to the Legislature if traffic-ticket revenues cover more than 33 percent of the costs of operating their police departments.

Bill sponsor Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican whose district includes Waldo, said the public should be aware if money from traffic tickets plays a large role in supporting law-enforcement agencies.

“This is a fantastic bill,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “It’s about transparency in government.”

The bill is now ready to go to the full Senate. A similar House bill (HB 421), filed by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, was approved Wednesday by the House Highway and Waterway Safety Subcommittee.

Bradley said state law-enforcement agencies are barred from using ticket quotas, but restrictions on cities and counties have not been so clear. H. Lee Moffitt, a former House speaker who lobbies for AAA, said the auto club began publicizing speed traps in Waldo and two nearby towns, Lawtey and Hampton, in the 1990s.

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Fla. Prison Reform Package Clears Another Panel, But Not Without Bipartisan Concerns posted on 3/5/15

by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

A comprehensive prison reform package cleared another Senate committee Wednesday. But, at the bill’s next stop, the measure may look a little different due to some bipartisan concerns with the omnibus bill.

The Senate’s omnibus prison reform package is authored by Baker Republican Senator Greg Evers. It includes areas like monitoring use of force incidents, putting more provisions in place to make sure there’s adequate health care for inmates, and tries to address the high turnover of Secretaries in recent years in charge of Florida’s prison system.

The Florida Department of Corrections has come under fire for inmate deaths, allegations of abuse by prison guards, and cover-ups as well as understaffing and officer shift issues.

“It changes how the Secretary is appointed by requiring the appointment by the Governor along with the concurrence of the three members of the Cabinet,” said Evers, during a hearing Wednesday. “It creates the Florida Corrections Commission to oversee the safety and effective operations of Florida’s prisons. This commission will have nine members who will be community leaders, business leaders, pastors, public defenders, and state attorneys. It can conduct investigations, inspect private and public facilities, identify high risk facilities, monitor violence of prisons, and the introduction of contraband.”

While all members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice liked the overall bill, some, like Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa), wanted changes to be made to the oversight board, including allowing former inmates to sit on the panel “for their insights since they are really an insider as to what goes on in prisons.”

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Fla. Prison Employees Fearful Of Losing Jobs Could Soon Testify Before Lawmakers posted on 3/4/15

by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

As Florida lawmakers continue to delve into making changes to the state’s troubled prison system, some want to hear from the employees affected by the changes. But, several correctional officers say they’re afraid of retaliation from the prison agency due to a new policy some are calling a “gag order.”

A day before the Florida Legislative Session officially began, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee’s agenda included testimony from some Florida Department of Corrections employees on Florida’s troubled prison system. It’s been plagued by inmate deaths, allegations of abuse by prison guards, and cover ups. Through several hearings, issues with understaffing, equipment, and officer shifts have come up as well.

But, the panel’s chairman, Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker), says the DOC employees were afraid to appear.

“We haven’t really discussed, I don’t think that thoroughly, on the ‘gag order’ that was sent out, but I’ve got some folks who would like to talk, but they’re afraid of retaliation,” said Evers, during a Monday hearing.

Evers says he got at least 12 people who were willing to testify and even come to the panel via subpoena. But, he adds a new department policy that could mean they lose their jobs is a deterrent.

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