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Rick Scott, Governor
Florida Department of Corrections, Secretary Julie L. Jones

Florida Department of Corrections
Julie L. Jones, Secretary


Media Advisory
October 21, 2014
For More Information
Contact: Communications
(850) 488-0420

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
WUSF News: FL Prisons Chief: Bad Guards Won’t Drive Future of Corrections

By: Dara Kam of The News Service of Florida
Published October 20, 2014

To read the entire story, visit: http://wusfnews.wusf.usf.edu/post/fl-prisons-chief-bad-guards-won-t-drive-future-corrections

Gov. Rick Scott tapped Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews two years ago to oversee an agency that is responsible for more than 100,000 prisoners and supervises nearly as many people in the community.


The News Service of Florida has five questions for Michael Crews:

Q: Your department is under intense scrutiny because of a number of inmate deaths, as well as alleged cover-ups surrounding those deaths. What do you say in response to those investigations and what can you say to the families of the 100,000 inmates in your care to assure them that their loved ones are safe?

CREWS: The first thing I want to say is I think it's unfair that the agency as a whole is painted under the same umbrella…

The fortunate thing for us in this department is that 99.9 percent of the men and women that work here are good, hardworking, decent people. They come here to work every day, do their jobs. They do it with integrity. They do it professionally.

What we have to continue to do is make sure that our staff understands that when they see, witness or are exposed to something that they know is fundamentally, morally or legally wrong, they have a responsibility to report what they saw up their proper chain of command.
What I've told them, I gave them my word there will be no repercussions or retaliation for people wanting to come forward and do the right thing…We hold each other accountable. I'm going to hold our staff accountable and likewise I expect them to hold me accountable.

Q: You say there won't be any repercussions, but that is part of the culture. People get dead animals in their mailboxes. Their cars get keyed. Their colleagues don't come to respond when they call for help. You may not retaliate against folks when they come forward but doesn't it take time for that message to trickle down and for those behaviors to change?

CREWS:  …We didn't get into the position that we're in today overnight. We're not going to get out of it overnight. This takes time. And when you're trying to change a culture you have to do it from the top down and the bottom up.

…Where we start making positive gains and positive movements in this area is when we do have people who are willing to come forward and stand up for doing the right thing. It's those people then that we want to publicly recognize and say this is the type of conduct not only do we expect but this is what we're going to recognize.

The real frustrating thing is that you've got a select few. Their actions reflect on all 22,000 of us, all 22,000. But they don't represent who we are. We're not going to let them drive the direction we're going to go in this agency.

Q: A few more inmates died last week. That brings the total to more than 116 unresolved deaths under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Some people are questioning how this can still be going on with all of the attention on the agency. Is this just what normally happens and if it hadn't been for these high-profile cases no one would be paying attention to it? Or is there a bigger issue here?

CREWS: Great question. I would ask people to think of it this way. I didn't look at it this morning but my guess is if you pick up the Tallahassee Democrat, there's a list of obituaries. A number of people died. We have people in our prisons. We have over 101,000 today. People are going to die. We also have an aging population in our prisons.

On every death that's occurring in our institutions now, the department's office of the inspector general is notified, FDLE is called to come in and then the medical examiner's office from the respective area is going to come in. I think that was a very positive step for us because I would hope that it would give the general public an idea that we are going to be open and transparent. We're not going to hide anything…

Ultimately, at the end what we want to get to is the truth. We want to know what did happen.

What I'm not willing to do is make decisions based on what the rumor mill is or what somebody thought they heard or saw. We're going to base our decisions on factual information that comes from investigations, medical examiner's findings. I would hope that's the way everybody wants to be treated. Everybody should be afforded due process. That's part of what we have by soliciting FDLE to come in.
You then take all of that information and you get to the truth. Then based on the truth, it's incumbent upon me, if there were things that were not done properly or people that did not act properly and misconduct was there, that's my responsibility to make sure those things are rectified. But not based on what somebody says they think they heard two weeks ago. That's not fair to you, me or any of our staff or anyone else. We're going to base our decisions on fact.

Q: Is what you're doing enough to instill trust in the public that people are safe when they get incarcerated?

CREWS: I hope it makes a difference. I really do. I hope the general public understands some of the things we've done proactively …

Our statutory responsibility is the care, custody and control of inmates. We do a great job with the custody and control. Where we're really focusing a lot of our efforts now is on the care part, because that's typically where you wind up getting yourself in trouble.
Being sentenced to prison is the sentence. There should be no other sentences once you get there.

Q: You have a re-entry prison now. What are you doing to prepare inmates to go back into the community?

CREWS: Outside of our operational issues, re-entry and our transitioning from prison to community initiative is our highest priority. If you think of it in these terms, in just sheer numbers, that 101,000 inmates that we have currently incarcerated, at some point about 89 percent of those individuals are going to be released. When they're released, they're going to come back into our communities.

So we can stick our heads in the sand and say, "Re-entry doesn't apply to me." Well, if they move next door to you or your grandchild or your granddaughter or your grandfather, it does apply.



What we're trying to do is to make sure that when those inmates are released back into society that we have done everything we can to prepare them to be successful, productive citizens back into the community, to keep them from coming back into the system again. How do you do that? One is you've got to get them an education…

It's also helpful if you can get them a vocational skill that meets the needs of what the demands are in the community now…We work with those industries to see if we need to change our programming to be able to give them a vocational skill.

One of the areas we've focused on is making sure that inmates that go out of our system have an ID card. That's been a big push for us.

Even if an inmate has everything -- an education, a vocational skill, an ID card, they're getting their treatment -- the fact that they're an ex-felon is an obstacle within itself. There just are not a lot of people out there who are willing to give these individuals a chance to have a job, to be able to earn a paycheck, to be able to rent a place or buy a place.

What we've got to continue to do is say everyone does make mistakes but some of these people deserve a second chance. They've served their time…

(People might be surprised at the amount of empathy you're expressing for the people in your custody.)

I do care. …People a lot of times get caught up in saying I have an interest in dropping the recidivism rate -- the number of inmates who return within three years -- because there is a cost savings. And there is. For every 1 percent drop in recidivism rate there's a cost savings of $19 million spread out over five years. And that's nothing to sneeze at. I mean, that's important.
But we're doing what we're trying to do in re-entry because it's fundamentally and morally the right thing to do…

But we do have so many of our population that we can help. When we can help them to go back into society and they don't commit a new crime, the greatest thing out of them not committing a new crime is there's no new victim. When you're talking about victims, you can't put a dollar on the cost to the person who was subjected to that crime.

I'm proud to say we've got a 43-year low in crime in this state right now. That's a significant accomplishment due to the hard work of the criminal-justice professionals in this state and our Legislature and the governor. But when we can reduce the number of victims and we can stop people from going out and two years later coming right back in our system, that's a win for all of us. Everybody in this state wins when we're able to do that.

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As Florida's largest state agency, the Department of Corrections employs more than 22,000 members statewide, incarcerates more than 100,000 inmates and supervises nearly 146,000 offenders in the community.

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