For Immediate Release
January 3, 2001
For More Information
Contact: Public Affairs Office
I take exception to the article published December 21, 2000 in the St. Petersburg Times on the recent review of the Department of Corrections conducted by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA.) Please allow me to set the record straight.
The majority of the review's findings were positive, particularly with respect to our primary functions of security, community supervision, health care, and inmate education and substance abuse programs. OPPAGA recommended continuation of all programs and additional funding for many of them. This hardly constitutes a "report card" that is "largely grim," as the article stated. We take these recommendations seriously and will use them to correct long-standing problems.
The statistic regarding absconders (those who have fled probationary supervision) mentioned in the article is especially misleading. Since my appointment as secretary, we have established an absconder search feature on our website at www.dc.state.fl.us. This helps the public and law enforcement aid in the apprehension of criminals. We also have signed agreements with U.S. marshals around the state for the specific purpose of apprehending absconders. These initiatives took place at my direction. The OPPAGA report failed to specify that the 24 percent absconder rate covered the past 19 years. To put matters in perspective, in fiscal year 1999-2000, the absconder rate was 6.7 percent of the total population on probation.
The statement that reorganization failed to save taxpayer dollars is unsupported by the facts. We reduced our budget by $32.9 million and 1,500 positions. Most of this reduction was in administrative functions. I am entrusted to make this agency more efficient and reduce expenses. My goal is to streamline the agency through standardization, centralized authority, less staff and improved service. I have refocused the agency's mission toward public safety, which saves taxpayer dollars. This is proven by the reduction in escapes of 48 percent over the past two years.
The article, reflecting the report, said that reorganization has "faltered, creating fear and distrust among employees..." As we downsized an agency that employs 27,000 people, difficult times arose for some employees. As we reorganized, some employees were adversely affected and morale was low. Left unsaid is that very few people lost their jobs as we froze positions trying to ensure that everyone had a choice to keep a job. We conducted more than 100 meetings with employees that were adversely affected. Job fairs, resume-writing classes, stress classes and referrals were made available to all affected. Our personnel and management staff worked hard to communicate changes through our website and employee newsletter. Staff could, and did, convey their concerns via our online employee suggestion box.
I am proud to lead an agency that is dedicated to public safety, fiscal responsibility and accountability. I welcome outside review. This administration, under the leadership of Gov. Jeb Bush, will continue to strive for excellence while saving tax dollars.