Pictured L to R: Michael Crews, Deputy Secretary, Florida Dept. of Corrections; Jennie Nimer, Parole & Probation; Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow, President, TOPS (The Ordinary People Society); Judy Thompson, President, Forgotten Majority; Ken Tucker, Secretary, Florida Dept. of Corrections; William Carr, Assistant Secretary of Re-entry; Darrel Davis, TOPS.
This meeting was two-fold and purposed to address the expansion of Contract Parole and the recent brutal death of an inmate at Union C.I. and the maltreatment suffered daily by inmates housed in Florida’s prisons.
The Department of Corrections plays a key role in the formulation of the contract for inmates eligible for Contract Parole under statute 947.135 – the inmate and the Parole Commission also participate in setting the contract in place. Forgotten Majority is seeking a modification of this Statute to include the 97,000 inmates, who are not violent habitual felony offenders, and who were sentenced after Parole was abolished in 1983 making them non-eligible. Of the current pool of approximately 5,000 parole eligible inmates in Florida, those sentenced as Habitual Offenders are ineligible for Contract Parole which diminishes the pool even further. If only 10% of today’s prison population (those who pose no societal threat) were released under statute 947.135, the immediate fiscal benefit would be $250,000,000.
Mr. Tucker spoke candidly of his concern regarding the use of excessive force by officers at Union C.I. He removed 11 staff from that institution, which has a history of violent abuses, and moved the Warden to Lawtey C.I. while suspending officers involved pending a full investigation.
Although Mr. Tucker will be passing the baton within a few weeks, he has put in place a new direction for the Department and for his successor. FDOC will collect empirical data from each facility showing statistics on the use of excessive force and superfluity of disciplinary referrals (DRs). This will wave a ‘red flag’ for high-risk institutions which will then generate an investigation. Wardens will be held accountable for the actions of their staff and officers. In addition, the Secretary and Deputy are determined to visit institutions more frequently and use this opportunity to listen to what inmates have to say.
Our discussion included violations that are currently occurring inside confinement cells (not captured by cameras) like the removal of mattresses from cell beds leaving inmates to sleep on cold steel, stripped of their clothing and their dignity – like attorneys being prevented from calling into some institutions to speak to their clients about their cases. These are violations that Mr. Tucker and Mr. Crews do not know because the voice of the inmate is not being heard in high places. That’s also about to change. The Administration is working toward a venue to hear the voice of the inmate in a manner that will not generate retaliation.
Forgotten Majority proposed the formation of Inmate Committees with inmates electing their own officers and reporting to an external, independent organization/agency. If such a committee had been in place, the murder at Union CI may have been prevented. We presented Mr. Tucker with the Canadian model for Inmate Committees and he stated that similar alternative would be considered.
Mr. Tucker and Mr. Crews have just completed a round of public forums in several counties statewide and have taken steps to open the prisons to the public on a bi-annual basis allowing anyone to enter, ask questions and take a tour. They are establishing community partnerships with companies like Home Depot where struggling plants needing TLC are taken to the institution, nursed back to health and then donated to Habitat for Humanity. The Department is seeking to meet and partner with local churches and welcomes families and volunteers to work with them toward accomplishing much-needed transparency. The big deal is the Department’s plan to form a diverse team tasked with examining it’s internal processes and procedures and making progressive recommendations for change and improvement.
In the immediate future, the Secretary will allow all inmates access to institutional programs, including drug treatment, irregardless of the length of their sentence. Currently, certain programs are only available to “short timers” under the rationale that these inmates will be out soon. This change of mind comes with the realization that most offenders will re-enter society one day, why not prepare them for release from prison the moment they enter? After all, FDOC has their full attention.
Also discussed was the Lifers Program which is active and successful in southern Florida but has not been instituted in the Northeast or Northwest facilities. This program was designed for parole eligible inmates and equips them with interpersonal and independent living skills needed to succeed on the outside after a lengthy incarceration. Participants are chosen by the Parole Commission and successful completion of the Program is a plus when being considered for parole. Although funding is not available for a full-time coordinator for each institution, the Department will consider whether a capable inmate, requiring minimal supervision, will be positioned to coordinate the Lifers Program at their respective facility while being responsible for the recruitment of effective facilitators. The fact of the matter is that there are inmates who have the proficiency to handle such a task.
This meeting allowed Forgotten Majority to see Corrections from the top down while enlightening those who sit at the top about the abuses that occur daily at the very bottom. We stand ready to be a part of the solution, what about you? Contact the Secretary at 850-717-3030 and give constructive feedback, suggestions, ideas that will benefit loved ones that are incarcerated, move the Department of Corrections closer to its mission and raise the bar for the state of Florida.