Mr. Phil Gailey
Editorial Page Editor
St. Petersburg Times
490 First Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33731-1121
Dear Mr. Gailey:
This is in response to your editorial published May 17, 2001, entitled, "Corrections Reform".
The correctional environment is unique: it is one in which hard-working men and women are expected to be "their brother's keeper". They stand face-to-face with the most violent of society's offenders- without weapons. These are my employees and I am very proud of them.
I understand the rigors of this environment, having myself served as a correctional officer, I have no tolerance for those who might take advantage of the correctional system - either through abusive exercise of power over inmates or over other correctional officers. The Florida Department of Corrections has a "zero tolerance" for misconduct - whether by those who uphold the correctional system or by those against whom it must be upheld. I support swift, thorough and judicious discipline of individuals who do not "play by the rules".
Since my tenure as Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, I have instituted sweeping changes within the correctional system that have generated highly positive results - results which are entirely ignored in your editorial.
Under my direction, significant changes have been made in the department's Inspector General's Office. One of my main missions was to raise the standards of the department's institutional inspectors and to improve the overall quality of investigations. This agency has now recruited and trained 1/3 of its staff to become law enforcement certified thereby raising both the knowledge base and professionalism of the department's investigative force. I ordered that institutional inspectors stop reporting to wardens and instead report directly to the Inspector General thereby centralizing investigations. This has increased uniformity and efficiency of the investigative process.
In your editorial, you mentioned the late Captain Willie Hogan's personal diaries. When the allegations at Lancaster Correctional Institution came to my attention, I immediately ordered a team of DOC inspectors to that institution. A dozen inspectors interviewed 347 prison employees. I also sent another team to investigate allegations of racial discrimination. Both investigations were exhaustive, and each determined that no misconduct or discrimination had occurred. We interviewed Captain Hogan during those investigations, and he stated verbally and in writing that he did not have any personal knowledge of inmate abuse. My staff provided a copy of that statement to Adam Smith, a St Petersburg Times reporter. Mr. Smith was also provided with a copy of our personnel rules, which state, "No employee shall refuse to truthfully answer questions specifically relating to the performance of his or her official duties" and with a copy of the internal investigation that was completed.
Your editorial fails to mention that you are aware of the existence of this information. This is blatantly irresponsible.
Even though I cannot comment on pending litigation, I believe if you actually look into the class-action lawsuit mentioned in your editorial, you will see that all allegations raised therein preceded my being appointed secretary. This does not, however, relieve this agency from instituting appropriate reform-a goal we have been working toward. After I was appointed Secretary, I established an Equal Employment Opportunity Investigative Unit (EEOIU) within the Bureau of Personnel to conduct investigations of complaints. As soon as the allegations of this lawsuit were brought to my attention, I immediately ordered our EEOIU to Tomoka Correctional Institution, Marion Correctional Institution, Lake Correctional Institution and North Florida Reception Center. I asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to handle the investigation into allegations of criminal misconduct at North Florida Reception Center to provide "objective scrutiny" from an outside agency.
Regretfully, I must agree with your statement that, we have "a recruitment and retention problem". DOC employees put their lives on the line everyday working in prisons for pay that will never compensate them for the risks they face for the safety of the citizens of the State of Florida. We are fortunate that the Governor and the Legislature have provided a 4.5% pay raise for correctional officers and correctional probation officers. These men and women walk the toughest beat in the state, and your paper has done them a great injustice. This agency has approximately 27,000 employees and the vast majority are honest and hard working individuals who do their jobs professionally and with integrity. Our employees understand their personal responsibility in the workplace and are encouraged and supported when expressing concerns that affect their jobs.
Prisons are dangerous and volatile. Incidents occur every day, and it is the correctional officer who must intervene to prevent injury. Officers are subjected to constant humiliation, abuse and harassment. Fortunately, this year the Florida Legislature passed new legislation that makes it a felony battery to throw, toss or expel certain fluids or materials on an employee of a correctional facility. DOC has tried for five years to make this a law and are pleased that the lawmakers have come to the same conclusion we have regarding this despicable practice.
The inmate's most powerful weapon is to allege abuse. Many inmates use the courts for the same purpose. We take these complaints seriously and respond to each and every one.
Our department is one of the few in the nation fully accredited by the American Correctional Association. We are reviewed by many outside agencies. Every year we invite the Legislature and staff to our institutions; we have tours with the judicial branch as well. I embrace the opportunity to show our operations and to tell our story. We are proud of what we do, and we are correctional officers - not guards.
Check our website, see our employee suggestions, recognize our accomplishments - and write a more responsible and accurate article about everyday "Corrections Reform".
Michael W. Moore