James R. McDonough
There are two unequivocal facts about the Department of Corrections: 1) Our mission is significant and unique; and 2) What we are called to do is subject to scrutiny and criticism. These facts will never change - nor should they. Criticism may be unfair at times and final judgment is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, but I firmly believe that these facts make us better and stronger by challenging us to persevere and meet our formidable mission. In the words of Thomas Edison, “Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress.”
This past year, the culture of the Department has improved, as we have inspired in our workforce a climate to promote ethics, integrity, and professionalism. We realize the importance of our Code of Conduct. These are not mere words printed on paper. They are inherent qualities to achieve exemplary public service, a commitment to public safety, the support and protection of fellow co-workers and the proper supervision, care, and transition of nearly a quarter-million inmates and community-supervised offenders.
It is my belief that these characteristics and the processes we have implemented will prepare us to meet even greater challenges. Likewise, I am proud of what our 27,000 employees both accomplished and overcame in 2006-2007.
Late 2006, questions arose in regard to the Department of Corrections’ execution procedures. As a matter of fidelity to the laws that govern us, the Department completed an immediate and thorough appraisal of its procedures. We set three guiding principles to shape this review: 1) The Department must put foremost the objective of a humane and dignified death; 2) While the entire process of execution should be transparent, the concerns and emotions of all those involved must be addressed; and 3) Without impinging on the other principles, the execution should not be of long duration. We subsequently implemented both our observations and the many recommendations of the Governor’s Commission on the Administration of Lethal Injection.
Spring 2007, several employees were involved in a series of dehumanizing and degrading behaviors at Hendry Correctional Institution. However, an aggressive and immediate response that same evening contained the situation. An aggressive and continued pursuit of the facts resulted in the uncovering of additional unsavory incidents. While these incidents were disturbing, they remind us that we must remain vigilant and restless in our efforts to maintain law, ethics and morality. There will always be a few amongst us who challenge our entirety. Ultimately, we are judged by how we respond to the challenge.
The Department’s Office of the Inspector General has been instrumental in both meeting the challenges of that evening at Hendry and the challenges of the longterm. When proper systems are in place, corruption or the potential for corruption can be overcome at any level of the Department. From 1999 to 2006, the Office of Inspector General was first reduced in size by a leadership eager to cut and then curtailed in scope by a leadership anxious to stifle insights into internal Department behavior. However, a renewed focus on proper staffing, organization and autonomy has been essential to the Office’s renewed efforts to prevent incidents like those at Hendry from going unchecked.
Fall 2007, we were challenged again, when the Office of the Inspector General concluded an investigation into the moving of inmates by outside attorneys and individuals for money. The investigation revealed that attorneys were charging money to arrange inmate transfers to desirable facilities. It was learned that the attorneys and others would contact Department of Corrections’ Classification employees to have the moves expedited or approved even when the inmate was not eligible. The investigation failed to reveal that the current employees received any compensation. However, the investigation did reveal that vigilance, proper systems and good people can overcome a corrupted few and mitigate the impacts of what could have been a dangerous situation.
May 2007, Assistant Secretary of Institutions George Sapp addressed the Department, writing, “I have said many times that if you do the right thing for the right reasons, everything will fall into place.” Continuously, the many capable leaders of the Department have proven this statement true. As we enter 2008, I am confident in our current leadership – senior leadership, regional directors, wardens, circuit administrators and many others. These fine professionals were instrumental in rebuilding the image of the Department, consistently demonstrating that their word is their bond.
Systems are now in place to ensure staff is treated fairly and with dignity:
In order to attract the finest recruits, a dynamic recruitment campaign featuring our own employees was developed to advertise careers within the Department. A recruitment website http://fldocjobs.com, and toll-free number 1-866-JOB-FDOC were created for potential applicants. These tools provide interested applicants one single point of contact in pursuing a career within the Department of Corrections. This has assisted the Department in reducing vacancies statewide but particularly in critical areas such as in Region IV. The vacancy rate for this region alone dropped nearly two percent from 5 to 3.2 percent.
Additionally, we placed into law accountability measures and internal oversight mechanisms to ensure that employee clubs expend funds in support of programs and activities that increase employee morale and strengthen the institution’s relationship with the community.
An innovative initiative implemented this year helping
victims and their families of crime was the Cold
Case Cards program involving a partnership between
the Department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,
the Attorney General’s Office and Crime Stoppers programs throughout Florida. By distributing thousands of decks of cards featuring unsolved murders or missing person’s cases to Florida inmates, the Department is doing its part to help solve these cases. Inmates can call the tip line anonymously and claim a reward if their tip about a case leads to an arrest. Since the program’s inception in July 2007, there have been two arrests for previously unsolved homicide cases. Recognized nationally, the Florida Department of Corrections is the first prison system in the country to distribute Crime Stoppers Cold Case Playing Card decks to prison inmates.
As public safety is our charge, we continue to reap the successes of our absconder initiative, soliciting the assistance of numerous state and federal agencies in this effort. Since February 2006, we have seen a 31.2 percent decrease in the number of absconders (44,020 to 30,276).
Also on the Community Corrections front, I am proud of our probation officers for their consistent and thoughtful implementation of the Department’s modified “Zero Tolerance” policy. Since we updated the policy, to stress that only “willful” violations of probation be reported, we have seen a 22 percent decline in the number of technical probation violations. This is good for both the criminal justice system as a whole and our individual probation officers, who are often stretched-thin, to address a demanding workload.
Amongst our agency’s accomplishments was the revision of our mission statement to include the reentry of prisoners into society. Our mission statement now reads:
“To protect the public, ensure the safety of Department personnel, and provide for the proper care and supervision of all offenders under our jurisdiction while assisting, as appropriate, their reentry into society.”
A successful reentry into free society is an essential tenet to maintaining public safety. Crime deterrence is the greatest means to protect Floridians from becoming the victims of crime. Our goal is to bring the recidivism rate (recommitment to prison) down from its current rate of 32 percent to 20 percent by 2012. This past year, we took several necessary steps to enhance our reentry efforts, including:
I am proud of the great strides the Department of Corrections has made in the past year, and anticipate further improvements. I am grateful for the privilege of serving alongside the men and women in the finest corrections department in the nation to fulfill the oath we have taken to our office and to the constitutions of the State of Florida and the United States of America.