News from Tallahassee for 4/26/15

New DOC Secretary Jones Grilled During Senate Confirmation Hearing posted on 4/3/15

by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

A panel of Florida lawmakers grilled the head of Florida’s troubled prison system, before unanimously confirming her during a Senate hearing Thursday.

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones is the fourth person Governor Rick Scott has appointed to lead the prison agency in about as many years.

“It’s an honor and a privilege. I want to thank Governor Rick Scott for his trust in me by appointing me to this position. I look forward to working with each one of you as I go forward bringing real change to the department to ensure safety and security to our inmates and our employees. And, so with that, I’m here to answer questions and would ask for your favorable confirmation.”

Jones—who made those remarks at the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Budget Subcommittee Thursday—has been tasked with taking over an agency plagued by allegations of inmate abuse by prison guards, unnatural inmate deaths, and cover ups.

Both the House and Senate are putting together their prison reform packages—the Senate passed its version Wednesday. It includes an oversight board that can conduct its own investigations into correctional facilities. That’s not included in the House proposal.

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Florida Senate passes bill to address prison concerns posted on 4/2/15

by AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — An independent commission would be appointed to investigate prison corruption, safety and prisoner deaths, and the governor would lose sole control of picking a corrections secretary under a bill overwhelmingly passed by the Senate on Wednesday.

The 55 page bill (SB 7020) seeks to address prison system problems that have been highlighted by suspicious deaths and allegations of cover-ups. It passed 36-1, and several Democrats highly praised Republican sponsor Sen. Greg Evers for shepherding the legislation.

"I hope and trust and believe that this reform effort will reap great benefits," said Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa. "We've had too many questionable deaths in our prisons, and I really hope this is the beginning of the end of our crisis.

The commission would be able to conduct surprise inspections, confidentially interview any prisoner or employee and could investigate allegations of corruptions or violence against prisoners, either by guards or other inmates. It would also make safety recommendations.

The bill, which will now go to the House, also would require the Corrections secretary be appointed by the governor and three-member Cabinet. Right now, the governor alone appoints the Corrections secretary.

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Florida House moves to reduce youth arrests posted on 3/31/15

by KATHLEEN MCGRORY | HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU

TALLAHASSEE — A Florida House panel on Monday gave its overwhelming support to a proposal (HB 99) seeking to reduce youth arrests by expanding civil-citation programs.

The 11-1 vote in the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee came on the same day St. Petersburg city officials rolled out a new "Second Chance" program to steer young people away from the criminal justice system.

"It appears to me that all across this state, people are realizing we should not criminalize, we should not have knee-jerk reactions and make arrests when there are more appropriate consequences," state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg said.

Civil-citation programs, which exist in 59 of Florida's 67 counties, provide police officers with an alternative to arresting young people. Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties are among those who operate such programs.

Under current law, officers can issue a civil citation or prescribe community service to young people who are first-time misdemeanor offenders. The proposal under consideration (HB 99) would extend the program to young people who have already been in trouble.

It would also give officers the option to call the young person's parent or give a verbal warning instead.

The plan won praise Monday from law enforcement officials, attorneys, social workers and the state Parent Teacher Association.

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New FDLE Commissioner Swearingen Reassures Lawmakers He's Man For The Job posted on 3/30/15

by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

The head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement received unanimous support at his initial confirmation hearing in the Senate this week. But, he spent much of the time reassuring a panel of lawmakers about his agency’s working relationship with Florida’s troubled prison system.

In the past few months, newly appointed FDLE head Rick Swearingen has been in the spotlight, after Governor Rick Scott ousted his longtime predecessor Gerald Bailey and tapped him to replace Bailey.

It’s since led to a lawsuit alleging Scott and the rest of the Florida Cabinet violated the state’s Sunshine Law by forcing Bailey to leave without a public discussion. And, the Cabinet has been grappling with its hiring and firing procedures as it relates to agency heads.

Given what’s occurred, some lawmakers question whether Swearingen can stay objective. That includes Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens.

“Everything that I’ve heard from folks that I’ve talked to say that you’re a consummate professional,” said Clemens. “I just—in light of some of the things that have happened over the past six months—whether they’ve been blown out of proportion or not, I just want to make sure that we’re asking you the question in terms of your department and the Executive branch. Can you just speak to that briefly for us?”

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New DJJ Secretary Christy Daly Breezes Through Senate Confirmation Hearing posted on 3/27/15

by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

The newly appointed head of Florida’s juvenile justice system breezed through her recent initial confirmation hearing in the Senate.

At her three minute confirmation hearing in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christy Daly started off by thanking the panel members.

“I appreciate the opportunity today to be considered today for my appointment, and I do thank each one of you for taking the time over the last few weeks to meet with me individually. I would also like to thank Governor Rick Scott for entrusting me with the role to serve as the Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary.”

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