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News from Tallahassee for 3/6/15
Putnam asks FDLE to consider reopening Dozier investigation posted on 2/19/15
by ben montgomery | tampa bay times
he discovery of 20 unaccounted for dead boys at Florida's oldest reform school has Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam calling on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the new findings. In a letter to new FDLE chief Rick Swearingen, Putnam says the discovery by University of South Florida researchers of 20 more remains than FDLE found in 2009 needs new evaluation. " … I am requesting that FDLE evaluate the new findings reported by USF to determine whether or not there is new evidence that would otherwise warrant additional investigation," he wrote. FDLE found records of 31 burials at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna in 2009, but USF later unearthed 51 remains.
by Sascha Cordner | WFSU
A bill that previously mandated law enforcement wear body cameras, which passed its first Senate panel Monday, has a new change. It’s a measure that now allows law enforcement agencies to decide whether to use the cameras and puts forth standard guidelines.
The newest change to Sen. Chris Smith’s (D-Fort Lauderdale) bill—made Monday—is aimed at addressing residents’ privacy concerns.
“A place where someone reasonably expects privacy, that video is not subject to the Sunshine or is not subject to anyone just coming in seeing it,” said Smith. “So, if a law enforcement officer comes into your home and has a body camera on, your neighbor just can’t go down and see the video of the inside of your house. So, law enforcement can see it and you can see or anyone you authorize to see the video.”
Senate panel advances bill making big changes in Florida prison system posted on 2/17/15
by john kennedy | Palm Beach Post
TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s troubled prison system would be guided by an independent oversight commission that could probe allegations of inmate abuse and poor health care, under legislation (CS/SB 7020) that sailed Monday through a Senate panel.
The Criminal Justice Committee’s 4-0 vote adds heft to a key recommendation made recently by a university panel that studied the nation’s third largest prison system and found it horribly flawed.
“This is a big step,” said Allison DeFoor, chairman of the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University, whose November report called for the monitoring board.
“Given the breadth of what the Senate committee is recommending, people seem really serious about reform,” he added.
Still, the measure (CS/SB 7020) has a long way to go.
The House has only begun holding hearings on the Department of Corrections, plagued by months of media reports of suspicious inmate deaths, allegations of guards beating prisoners, staffing woes and shoddy medical treatment documented in a series of stories by the Palm Beach Post.
Gov. Rick Scott and Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones – the governor’s fourth prisons chief in as many years – also have shown little support for establishing an outside commission.
But Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the proposed nine-member Florida Corrections Commission is needed.
“We talk a lot in Tallahassee about accountability in things like health care and education and that’s very important,” Bradley said, adding, “It also holds true for our criminal justice system…I think the people of the state of Florida expect nothing less.”
The commission would be appointed by the governor and include a sheriff, state attorney, public defender, and faith and community leaders.
by john kennedy | Palm Beach Post
Florida’s prisons chief said Wednesday that she plans to renegotiate or rebid lucrative private health care contracts in the wake of widespread reports of inmate deaths and poor treatment.
Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told the House Judiciary Committee that “all options are on the table,” for reviewing contracts with private Corizon Prison Health Management and Wexford Health Sources, which signed five-year contracts in 2013.
Corizon’s contract is worth $1.2 billion and Wexford’s is $240 million.
“I don’t believe privatization was the wrong thing to do,” Jones told the committee. “I think we didn’t do it in the right way.”
Jones later said that DOC already has opened talks with Corizon and Wexford on reworking the long-term contracts.
She said a goal would be to get included better oversight of prescription drug delivery, mental health services, and an enhanced level of nursing within prisons, with more registered nurses available than less-skilled staffers.
Bid to keep Florida prison inspectors quiet sparks lawsuit posted on 2/12/15
by GARY FINEOUT | AP
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- An attempt by Florida's new prisons chief to keep investigators from discussing what's going on inside the state's troubled prison system has sparked a lawsuit.
An attorney representing six Corrections Department employees asked a judge this week to block a new confidentiality policy ordered by Secretary Julie Jones.
Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews maintains in the lawsuit that investigators could lose their jobs if they refuse to sign an agreement by Feb. 19 saying they will follow the policy. The 58-page court filing also asserts that the new policy violates several state and federal laws and was undertaken to prevent state legislators and others from asking about ongoing scandals.
Jones was brought in last year by Gov. Rick Scott to deal with an agency under fire for suspicious inmate deaths and poor treatment of prisoners. She has asked for millions of dollars in the coming year to boost staffing and has suggested she may be forced to revamp contracts with private companies that provide health care to inmates.
Several times this year legislators have questioned both Jones and other top prison officials about inmate deaths and the use of force against inmates. Earlier this month, a Senate committee grilled the agency's inspector general. Three days later, the department asked all of its investigators to abide by the new confidentiality policy.
That policy, which was first reported by The Miami Herald, said investigators cannot discuss or disclose information from either open or closed cases.
Jones conceded to a state House committee on Wednesday that the timing of the new policy was "terrible," but she said it was needed to let investigators do their job without having to answer questions from other prison officials. She said it would also stop gossip and "water cooler talk." She also maintained the new policy would not stop the agency from responding to public record requests or questioning by the Florida Legislature.
In an interview with The Associated Press, she said the policy was not prompted by the grilling of her inspector general.
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