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Rick Scott, Governor
Florida Department of Corrections, Secretary Michael D. Crews

Florida Department of Corrections
Michael D. Crews, Secretary

The Florida Department of Corrections: What are our Most Pressing Issues and Why?

The following questions were designed to determine what the public views, as the DC's most pressing issues, the causes of problem areas, and the DC's overall role in state government. The actual questions as they were asked are presented, followed by the public's response.

Now I'm going to ask you some questions about the state prison system, not local or county jails. When we mention inmates, we are talking about people who have committed felonies, not misdemeanors.

What do you think is the most important problem facing Florida's Corrections System today?

Problem Area General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Prison Overcrowding22728.5%13840.1% 88 14.2%
Early Release/Gaintime/Parole22328.0%5516.0% 21 3.4%
Other/Specify10413.1%6017.4% 114 18.4%
Need Longer Sentence 9712.2%195.5% 34 5.5%
Need More Prisons344.3%113.2% 11 1.8%
Lack Rehabilitation Programs 242.9%308.7% 88 14.2%
Too Cushy Prison Conditions222.8%20.6% 4 0.6%
Repeat Offenders202.5%92.6% 31 5.0%
Drugs182.3%30.9% 4 0.6%
Violent Crime131.6%51.5% 8 1.3%
Need Funding 60.8%30.9% 36 5.8%
Inmate Rights40.6%30.9% 4 0.6%
Lack of Good Employees20.3%30.9% 72 11.7%
Drug Offenders20.2%30.9% 1 0.1%
Understaffed 00.0%00.0% 49 7.9%
Low Morale/Poor Leadership 00.0%00.0% 30 4.9%
Inmate Control Issues 00.0%00.0% 23 3.7%
Total 796 100.0% 344 100.0% 618 100.0%

Cases Not Applicable = 206/22/81

General Public Survey:  Over half of those who responded (56.5%) said overcrowding (28.5%) and early prison release/gain time/parole (28.0%) are the Department of Corrections' biggest problems. The majority of the public and the media have misconceptions about the facts since Florida's prisons are not overcrowded; in fact, the DC currently has a sufficient number of beds to manage the system. Also, early prison release, in the form of time off of an inmate's sentence due to prison overcrowding, was discontinued in December 1994; and parole was eliminated for all offenses committed on or after October 1, 1995.

In the "Other/Specify" category, responses included the following:

  • "There are no problems"
  • "Juveniles need more attention"
  • "No fathers for kids"
  • "Light sentences"
  • "Need to be taught skills so they don't just commit crime when they get out"
  • "Lack of drug rehabilitation programs in prison"
  • "Not tough enough on anybody who commits a crime"
  • "Death row people not killed fast enough"
  • "Too lenient, treated like a hotel, and let out early"

News Media Survey:  Again, over half of those who responded (56.1%) said overcrowding (40.1%) and early prison release/gain time/parole (16.0%) are the Department of Corrections' biggest problems, but the media respondents thought overcrowding was much more of a problem than early release/gain time/parole, compared to the general public.

In the "Other/Specify" category, news media responses included the following:

  • "Juvenile crime"
  • "Racism"
  • "Sentencing procedures. We need to set priorities about who gets beds in the prison system and who should be released"
  • "Politics"
  • "Electric chair has given penal system in Florida a bad name."
  • "Lack of training on the part of corrections officers"
  • "Security within the prisons"
  • "Administration"
  • "Not many activities for inmate"
  • "Criminals"
  • "Not enough preventative methods to keep inmates from becoming criminals"

DC Staff Survey:  Only 14.2% of DC staff said prison overcrowding was the Department's biggest problem. An equal number cited lack of education and rehabilitation programs for inmates (14.2%) and 11.7% cited a lack of good employees.

In the "Other/Specify" category, news media responses included the following:

  • "People in the state want us to implement new, tougher rules. This is problematic because it keeps things in a certain state of flux."
  • "The public doesn't understand how the system works."
  • "We lack the ability to hire and retain competent staff."
  • "Inmates dominate the system and correctional officers have no say in what happens."
  • "Privatization"
  • "Inmates have too much time on their hands."
  • "Not enough bottom up feedback within facility"
  • "Not enough officers to maintain correctional staffing positions"
  • "Low salary, low morale"
What do you think is the main cause of this problem?
Main Cause of Problems General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Other/Specify21128.8%5918.2% 123 20.8%
Lack Prison Space/Too Much Crime13919.0%6820.9% 34 5.7%
Justice System669.0%4413.5% 19 3.2%
Overcrowding537.3%298.9% 18 3.0%
Need Punishment/Longer Sentences435.9%268.0% 25 4.2%
Early Release/Gaintime334.6%103.1% 6 1.0%
Legislature334.5%237.1% 56 9.5%
Lack of Money304.2%3510.8% 93 15.7%
Judges273.7%51.5% 7 1.2%
Repeat Offenders263.5%30.9% 8 1.4%
Family233.1%61.8% 18 3.0%
Need Better Education 162.2%103.1% 25 4.2%
Drugs131.7%41.2% 9 1.5%
Lack of Respect121.7%10.3% 8 1.4%
Need More Guards20.3%00.0%18 3.0%
Governor20.3%10.3%2 0.3%
Low Pay00.0%00.0%29 4.9%
Sentencing/Inmate Issues 00.0% 00.0% 40 6.8%
Public Perception 00.0% 00.0% 19 3.2%
DC Management 00.0% 00.0% 20 3.4%
Lack of Communication 00.0% 00.0% 13 2.2%
Lack of Jobs20.2%10.3%2 0.3%
Total 731 100.0% 325 100.0% 592 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 271/41/107

General Public Survey:  Lack of prison space and too much crime (19.0%) are cited most often as specific causes for the DC's problems, with overcrowding being named by an additional 7.3% of respondents. The justice system is considered the main cause of corrections' problem by 9.0% of the respondents.

Respondent's remarks listed in the "Other/Specify" (28.8%) category placed the blame on a variety of causes:

  • "Taxpayers"
  • "Poor management"
  • "Lack of leadership"
  • "Lack of family values"
  • "Women in the workforce"
  • "Greed"
  • "Democrats"
  • "Politics"
  • "Racism"
  • "Liberalism"
  • "Stupidity"
  • "Lawyers"
  • "Bureaucracy"
  • "Candy-ass politicians"
  • "Looking out too much for criminals, and not enough for victims"
  • "Society didn't take care of these criminals when they were kids."

Additionally, several respondents refer to juvenile crime being a problem.

Miscellaneous Remarks: "Too many people come for the weather and commit crimes," said one respondent. Another said the DC "can't keep prisoners in jail long enough to rehabilitate them because of overcrowding," and another claimed that "if they had more space, they could serve longer sentences." One opined that the "crime rate is up because of not spending enough time in prison." In fact, the crime rate is down. "Judges don't stand by their decision and laws don't have any teeth," according to another.

News Media Survey:  Lack of prison space and too much crime (20.9%) are again cited most often as specific causes for the DC's problems, with overcrowding being named by an additional 8.9% of respondents. The justice system is considered the main cause of corrections' problem by 13.5% of the respondents, and a lack of money is cited by 10.8% of reporters.

Respondent's remarks listed in the "Other/Specify" (18.2%) category placed the blame on a variety of causes:

  • "Afraid to punish youth"
  • "Public attitude"
  • "Drug laws too strict"
  • "Need tougher drug laws"
  • "Prison guards need to be better trained"
  • "Bureaucracy"
  • "Misguided laws"
  • "Money needs to go into rehabilitation"
  • "Politics"
  • "Human rights activists"

Miscellaneous Remarks: "The problem in gathering a good sentencing structure is a lack of knowledge and pressure from the public and not enough money for alternatives. People want instant results, but the problem is too widespread for it to be solved this way," said one media respondent. Another said the "general attitude in society is that you need to be hard on criminals and that they need to be punished and there's not much of a belief that rehabilitation works or that it should be done. People only want to get criminals off the street and to punish them."

DC Staff Survey:  Staff think the lack of money (15.7%), the Legislature (9.5%) and Sentencing/Inmate Issues (6.8%) are the main causes of the DC's problems.

Respondent's remarks listed in the "Other/Specify" (20.8%) category placed the blame on a variety of causes:

  • "Politicians' lack of knowledge of the prison system"
  • "Lack of moral character in our youth"
  • "Mood of the public. Public opinion has been translated into new statutes or regulations."
  • "DC's afraid of lawsuits"
  • "Lack of community participation after release"
  • "85% law gives inmates nothing to lose."
  • "Aging of inmates; AIDS and chronic diseases."
  • "Lack of communication and foresight at the institutional level."
  • "Too many un-common sense laws made by people who have never worked in these institutions."
  • "Lack of training"
  • "Bad pay"
  • "Sentencing Guidelines"

Miscellaneous Remarks: "Good, conscientious people are not in prison. They have a lot of maniacs and it's hard to turn them around. Either their mommas didn't raise them right or they're mentally ill," said one respondent. Another summed up two frequent complaints: "politicians and the public have a short attention span and don't look at the complexities of the system." Another cited "lack of communication, low pay and differences between institutions" as the source of DC's problems.

What do you think is THE MOST important job of the Department of Corrections, would you say it's rehabilitation, punishment, public safety, or what?
Most Important Job General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
1. Public Safety33538.5%14640.2%571 82.0%
2. Rehabilitation29634.0%10428.7%83 11.9%
3. Punishment15317.6%7420.4%11 1.6%
All (1-4) Categories404.6%174.7%13 1.9%
Other Specify364.2%205.5%18 2.6%
4. Prevention101.2%20.6%0 0.0%
Total Cases 564 100.0% 363 100.0% 696 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 438/3/3

According to the Department's Mission Statement:

"The mission of the Florida Department of Corrections is to protect the public, provide a safe and humane environment for staff and inmates, to work in partnership with the community to provide programs and services to offenders, and to supervise offenders at a level of security commensurate with the danger they present."

General Public Survey:  Most respondents agree that public safety (38.5%) is the DC's primary job, followed closely by rehabilitation (34.0%) and punishment (17.6%). Several respondents said they thought it was a combination of rehabilitation, punishment, prevention and public safety, and several (4.6%) insisted on all four. Of those who chose a combination of two answers (other/specify: 4.2%), rehabilitation was usually one of the two.

News Media Survey:  Reporters also believe that public safety (40.2%) is the DC's primary job, followed more evenly by rehabilitation (28.7%) and punishment (20.4%).

DC Staff Survey:  Staff overwhelmingly (82.0%) say that public safety is the DC's primary job, followed by rehabilitation (11.9%). Only 11 respondents (1.6%) said punishment was the DC's primary job.