Walter A. McNeil named new Secretary of Corrections
January 15, 2008
Governor Charlie Crist today appoints Walter A. McNeil to serve as Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections. Immediately prior to this appointment, McNeil was Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice for a year.
“Walt is an excellent leader and has done a tremendous job working with community partners to address the challenges within our juvenile justice system,” Governor Crist said. “I am honored that he has agreed to transfer his leadership to the Department of Corrections, and I am confident he will continue the good work we have accomplished there.
Before joining Governor Crist’s administration, McNeil served as Tallahassee Police Chief and was known throughout the state for being on the cutting edge of the law enforcement profession. With 28 years of law enforcement experience, McNeil has worked in virtually every area of police leadership, management, and supervision. McNeil also served as the Fifth Vice President for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi and St. Johns University in Springfield, Louisiana.
McNeil replaces Colonel James McDonough, who has headed the agency since February 2006. Prior to becoming Secretary, McDonough served as the director for the Office of Drug Control Policy.
Correctional Officer Donna Fitzgerald
Longtime Tomoka Correctional Institution Correctional Officer Officer Donna Fitzgerald, 50, is stabbed to death on June 25, 2008 by an inmate who was working in the prison's PRIDE program. The inmate, Enoch Hall, uses a knife he made from sheet metal scraps to murder Officer Fitzgerald. Hall, 39, is already serving two life sentences for rape and kidnapping. He faces first-degree murder charges and is moved to Florida State Prison in Starke. Fitzgerald had worked at the prison for 13 years. On Friday, January 15, 2010, Hall is sentenced to death for Officer Fitzgerald's murder.
Wakulla Annex opens. It houses close custody male inmates.
The Florida Department of Corrections, which houses more than 101,000 inmates and supervises more than 156,000 active offenders in our communities, accomplished a number of goals in 2009, from zero perimeter escapes to opening two new re-entry facilities to tracking down 12,000 absconders and arresting 885 probation violators during sweeps of their homes.
Since the Department of Corrections’ (DC’s) main mission is public safety, it’s worth noting that once again, there were no escapes from the secure perimeter of any DC institutions this year. That success can be attributed to a combination of training and technology, and to our commitment to learning from our mistakes. Keeping our institutions running smoothly and safely, and ensuring public safety inside and outside the fences remains our highest priority. Click here for the DC’s latest escape report information.
In Community Corrections, our absconder unit and key field staff helped track down more than 12,000 absconders from supervision in FY0809, using their rapport with various local law enforcement agencies and new technology to combine forces to apprehend these individuals.
Also this year, more offenders on supervision are successfully completing probation.
Community Corrections was also awarded a $3,448,782 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice that is being used to reduce caseloads in six circuits. The Competitive Byrne Grant funding is being used to train and hire 30 new probation officers in Alachua, Bay, Lee, Lake, Polk and Pinellas counties over the next two years.
Our probation officers held a number of job resource fairs throughout the year designed to assist offenders in finding jobs and housing, and to connect them to local resources for health care, education, etc.
Probation officers also partners with law enforcement statewide on 256 sweeps of offenders’ homes, arresting 885 violators during these sweeps, and seizing illegal weapons and drugs, and pornography from sex offenders.
In Health Services, we will miss the leadership of Dr. Sandeep Rahangdale, who will be returning to the private sector in January, but he leaves behind a very talented team who will continue to build upon Health Service successes and initiatives. Their efforts have saved the Department millions of dollars, even as waiting times were reduced and clinical care improved. It is no wonder that Health Services staff were among the 15 individuals and teams from Corrections to earn Davis Productivity Awards this year.
Speaking of staff, our agency was once again the recipient of the “Cal Henderson Award” in 2009 for being the top fundraising statewide agency for the Law Enforcement Torch Run, raising close to $130,000 this year for Special Olympics.
2009 was the year that we re-assumed full control of our Food Service Operations. Today, we spend less than $3 per day (not per meal, per DAY) to feed the more than 101,000 inmates in our prison system, a remarkable feat. Our inmates continue to grow close to three million pounds of crops every year at 30 different farms and gardens around the state. These cantaloupe, broccoli, cabbage, watermelon and more are used to supplement inmate meals and help us keep costs down. In March this year, the Department asked our new Food Service provider, U.S. Foodservice, to evaluate a Florida peanut butter company based in Jacksonville as a possible supplier for the tons of peanut butter and jelly eaten by our inmates annually. As a result, the Department is saving about $234,000 annually on the cost of peanut butter and jelly, and 19 Floridians and employees of Sunshine Peanut Company who would have lost their jobs without this contract remain employed.
Drug Interdiction, Tracking and Shelter Dogs
We added a second cell phone-sniffing dog, Uno, to our Inspector General’s Drug Interdiction Unit this year, which once again took top honors at the Southern Hills Kennels Drug/Bomb Detection Seminar held in November.
Our institutional tracking dog teams also continue to shine, most recently at DeSoto Correctional Institution (CI), where one of their Tracking Teams saved a lost hunter in the Everglades in November.
We now have five inmate dog-training programs around the state at Taylor, Wakulla, Gulf, Gainesville CIs, and Sago Palm Work Camp (trained for the disabled), and this year we began to feature the dogs on our public website when they graduate from training and are available for adoption.
Last, and certainly not least, are the accomplishments in our Re-Entry efforts. We opened Demilly CI in March and Baker CI in August as our initial re-entry centers, designed to prepare inmates for transition back into their communities by emphasizing education, substance abuse treatment and re-entry skills.
On the education front, the number of inmates earning GED certificates jumped 49% over the last two years, from 1,953 GED certificates earned in fiscal year 2008-09, compared to 1,313 in FY 2006-07, an increase of 640 more certificates earned. And in October we learned that we, the city of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office received $750,000 through a grant from the Department of Justice's Federal Second Chance Act. The funds are being used to assist former felony offenders as part of our statewide re-entry initiative in the Jacksonville area. We also introduced our fourth Faith and Character-based institution in 2009, Glades C.I.
At 8 a.m., Florida became the third state to have more than 100,000 inmates in its prison system on December 18, 2009. California and Texas are the only other states that incarcerate more than 100,000 state prison inmates.