GOAL: By June 30, 2003 increase incrementally each year the percentage of department staff, news media representatives and general public survey respondents reporting an accurate knowledge of the department's role and mission to 80% as determined by responses on objective survey questions.
The department has gained a reputation for credibility in its dealings with the Legislature. Its Information Services staff see themselves as customer service representatives, trained to respond accurately and expeditiously to the numerous inquiries from politicians, reporters, citizens and the families of inmates.
The nature of the department's contacts suggests that the informed public is mostly supportive of its efforts.
The department is unlike any other agency in that it must meet expectations of the public whose safety it must protect; yet provide programs that allow offenders an opportunity to develop pro-social behaviors, which are sometimes misunderstood by the police. Both are divergent and contain obstacles to successful achievement of each other.
Location of facilities:
The public often does not support the location of institutions or probation and parole offices in the areas where they are needed.
Internal and external communications can be improved by increasing the use of speaker's bureaus, press releases, distance learning, the internet, the intranet and by producing informative programs for the public, such as the video tapes: Keepers of the Gate; Life Inside; Community Talks; Under the Watchful Eye; and others whose subjects include gangs, construction of T-buildings, searches, and supervision of inmate work squads.
Understanding the DC purpose:
There is an opportunity to develop material that focuses on the department's purpose, both for external and internal consumption, and deliver these messages via written documents such as press releases, fact sheets, newsletters and the annual report; information technologies such as the Internet, the Intranet and distance learning classes; and through a Speaker's Bureau that involves each facility, Probation and Parole Office, Region and Central Office.
There are numerous opportunities to expand existing involvement in communities and partnerships at the local level.
Uninformed public perception of punishment:
Demands that inmates should serve "hard time" are popular with the public, but expose staff to undue risks in facilities designed for less violent, shorter stay offenders.
Retirees form a large proportion of the Florida population and polls have indicated that their major concerns are crime and health-care, not education or support for families; short-term security is more important to them than long-term futures, and prison lock-ups preferable to a lengthy, comprehensive attempt to deal with the problem of offender recommitment.
Unrealistic public expectations:
In the department's general public survey, 34 percent of respondents said they believe rehabilitation is the most important job for the DC; only public safety ranked higher, at 38.5 percent. There is a tendency among the public to see the department as the front end of the solution to crime, when realistically corrections is the last resort. Offenders have often failed at school and work and within their families and churches prior to their initial involvement with corrections. Punishment is expected to promote rehabilitation, but has not been shown to be effective in instilling discipline, self-esteem and the work ethic, except perhaps among the naturally law-abiding. Since most offenders will eventually be released, the lack of funding for rehabilitative programs itself poses a danger to society.
The department is squeezed between what the public wants and what it is willing to pay for: e.g., it requires inmates to work for 40 hours per week in meaningful programs. This requires extra supervisory staff, more jobs inside the compound and ultimately legislation permitting competition with the private sector. The public or politicians may want to eliminate privileges such as smoking, weights, television and lower canteen prices, but they do not necessarily want to pay for the extra security staff required to handle the consequences of those changes. In addition, they are not always aware that these changes create a more dangerous prison environment for officers and inmates. The public favors privatization proposals, yet privatization focuses on minimum/medium custody inmates and costs more, with unverified results. The beds most needed are close custody beds.
How Floridians perceive the department is directly related to how they interpret the department's role in public safety. Better communication is the key to understanding the relationship between the department, other law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. The department realizes that the perception of its role and scope held by the general public as well as other criminal justice agencies does not reflect a true picture of department responsibilities. This assessment is based on numerous appearances before public forums by corrections officials, by media reports concerning the department's operations, by correspondence from the public about corrections, and by the results of a March 1997 telephone survey of 1,002 Floridians on their opinions about the Florida Department of Corrections.1 The survey, conducted by the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR), was designed to get baseline data of the general public's knowledge and image of the Department of Corrections. Results indicate that the public is misinformed about a number of correctional issues. For example, 56 percent of the general public believes early release and overcrowding are the biggest problems facing the department, when in fact early release has been eliminated and the department has a surplus of beds. In addition, 64 percent of respondents think the percentage of sentence an inmate serves has decreased in the last five years, when in fact it has more than doubled. The general public is also misinformed about whether correctional officers carry guns in prison (68 percent said yes) and whether correctional probation officers collect fees for victims restitution (61 percent said no) and court costs (69 percent said no). Further plans include repeating the survey in March, 1997, and annually thereafter, to determine whether subsequent efforts at educating external target audiences about correctional issues have been successful. To improve the public's understanding of the dynamics of corrections is considered by management to be a critical priority for the department. It becomes particularly important in matters pertaining to prison or facility siting, early release issues, the role of Correctional Probation Officers and in recruitment activities.
To conduct the aforementioned survey, department staff developed a questionnaire to measure how much the following groups know about the policies, issues and practices of the department:
There is an ongoing tendency for the department's communication with the public to be initiated primarily through the media. Negative events such as a disturbance, an escape, or the commission of a violent crime by an offender under community supervision or released early from prison capture most media attention. News accounts of these events tend to foster public misconceptions about the department and its functions. By increasing the effort to proactively communicate the many positive impacts the department has on community safety and quality of life, public support for effective criminal justice programs that better ensure public safety can be improved.
An important aspect of communication with external groups is the awareness of department employees concerning the priority issues and objectives of the agency. The department employs over 27,000 people, all of whom can reflect a positive, or negative, image of the agency. Additionally, department representatives are frequently called upon to address local civic organizations. Keeping these representatives, and all staff, attuned to the priority efforts of the department in fulfilling its mission is of strategic significance in better informing the public.
SM Objective 4-1:
By July 1, 1999 increase internal target groups' knowledge of agency issues, policies, and practices as determined by responses to surveys conducted between December 1997 and December 1998.
SM Objective 4-2:
By July 1, 1999 increase external target groups' knowledge of agency issues, policies, and practices as determined by responses to surveys conducted between December 1997 and December 1998.