With almost 27,000 employees, more than 200,000 people in custody or under supervision and a $1.7 billion budget, the Florida Department of Corrections is the largest agency in the state of Florida and the fourth-largest prison system in the nation. While many believe our job is to simply supervise prisoners, our most serious responsibility is to protect the public from criminals by effectively keeping them in custody or under supervision. Public safety is our number one mission.
Many people are affected by what the Department of Corrections does or fails to do. I like to think of them as "stakeholders." Anyone who receives a product or service from the department or anyone who is affected by our success or failure is a stakeholder. Our primary stakeholder is the public, especially victims of crime.
Because the department supervises so many criminals, their victims are sometimes overlooked by the system. Soon after being appointed Secretary, I gave new emphasis to victims by establishing a toll-free hotline. Anyone who is a victim of crime or who has a concern or question about the inmate who committed it can call 1-877-8VICTIM. Inmate information can also be accessed on our website at www.dc.state.fl.us.
What the public doesn't often hear is that all inmates are serving more time behind bars, especially violent criminals, drug traffickers and sex offenders. Criminals whose offenses occurred on or after Oct. 1, 1995 must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. It is important to remember that judges and juries, and not the Department of Corrections, decide sentences for the guilty and determine how much time they spend in prison.
However, the Department of Corrections is committed to making sure that once they are behind bars, criminals stay there for the duration of their terms. If released, we must also make sure offenders are less likely to return to a life of crime and victimize their communities.
10-20-Life Media Campaign - The department assisted the Governor's Office in production of a media campaign for 10-20-Life and 3 Strikes Violent Felony Offender legislation.
As in the private sector, the Internet is just one way technology is transforming the business of corrections. Employing the same satellite systems our military uses to control missiles, we can now monitor offenders on probation through an electronic tether known as GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) tracking. By wearing an ankle bracelet and carrying a small computer-radio transmitter, a offender can be watched via a computer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
For example, GPS can track a pedophile if he is walking past a school. It can be programmed to notify his probation officer if he goes near an area declared off-limits. If he puts the device down or gets separated from it, we know immediately. While GPS is now limited to small test group of probationers - and it must be understood that it is not an alternative to prison - we hope to soon expand its use.
Contrary to popular opinion, prisoners do not have cable TV, satellite dishes or air-conditioned cells. Inmates work by cleaning up roadways, growing and preparing much of their own food, building and maintaining prison facilities, or assisting in the community.
Assisting in the community - An inmate working on the restoration of an old building.
But the department cannot benefit the public like this while operating like a large, cumbersome bureaucracy. When the governor appointed me Secretary of corrections, I began an in-depth study of our current organization. In my previous experience as director of the South Carolina prison system, I tried to think like a business owner responsible to his customers and shareholders. I know Gov. Bush and the Legislature share this philosophy toward government.
Thinking like that helped me save more than $51 million in South Carolina over three years by streamlining operations and re-directing resources. One result was that correctional officers - the men and women who put their lives and safety on the line every day to protect the public - saw a 21 percent pay raise during that time.
In Florida, with its demographic diversity, our challenge is different. Gov. Bush recently signed into law a much-needed plan to streamline many department functions. Our goal is simple: to improve delivery of services to our stakeholders while maintaining our obligation to protect the public. Before, each of the state's 60 major prisons had its own supply, purchasing and administrative support systems. Now we are eliminating inefficiency and duplication of effort by consolidating those functions into seven regional service centers across Florida. Those centers will provide support and resources for the prisons and facilities that keep criminals behind bars, and for our community corrections responsibility.
Contrary to what some have claimed, no corrections employee will lose his or her job or see a salary reduction as a result of the realignment of department operations. Employees are an asset to be nurtured and encouraged to grow professionally and personally. My ultimate goals are to cut the fat from the corrections bureaucracy, save tax dollars, and put resources where they are needed the most: into the hands of wardens, administrators and correctional and probation officers who deal with offenders daily.
I appreciate that many counties and communities - especially in the rural parts of our state - depend heavily on the department for jobs and economic development. These communities will not be adversely affected by realignment.
Using the latest technology, business-like management principles, and - most importantly - our dedicated employees, the Florida Department of Corrections is ready to move into the 21st century. Law-abiding citizens have the most to gain.
Michael W. Moore